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The Great Dictator (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

Criterion's repackaging of Charlie Chaplin classics continues with this, one of the most important and bravest films ever made.

When Hitler was rising to power, many comparisons of Chaplin and Hitler were made. Besides having similar mustaches, the two were born in the same week of the same year. Chaplin, who was working on a film about Napoleon, switched gears during the pre-production process and decided to make a film parodying Hitler, a man whose atrocities were only starting to be exposed. In essence, Chaplin was one of the few people willing to stand up at the time and declare Hitler to be the monster he was—and Chaplin did it by totally mocking him.

Chaplin's impersonation of Hitler is quite hilarious when we first see the raging Hynkel, dictator of Tomania (a thinly veiled Hitler parody), but it becomes quite unsettling when we see him snarling and spewing hateful words later in the film. Chaplin, after all, is the guy who played the lovable Little Tramp, a character which also appears in the movie, sort of, as an alter ego—a Jewish barber suffering from amnesia after World War I.

Little was known about concentration camps and the full extent of Hitler's madness when the film was in production. Allied troops wouldn't start liberating the camps until three years after the film's release. United States wasn't even in World War II at the time of this film's release, and Germany was not a declared enemy.

While Modern Times did include the legendary scene in which the Little Tramp sang a gibberish song and was heard for the first time on film, this is officially Chaplin's first talkie, and it's quite shocking to hear Chaplin's first words ("Yes sir!") during the opening Big Bertha sequence. As it turned out, Chaplin had a wonderful voice that would serve him well in this movie.

Jack Oakie delivered an incredibly funny, Oscar-nominated appearance as Benzino Napaloni, an obvious dig at Benito Mussolini, the notorious Italian fascist dictator. Chaplin would also receive a nomination for his performance, but he was ignored in the director category.

The film is imperfect. Chaplin's kept some of the melodrama elements from his silent-film era, and there are more than a few moments with his leading lady, Paulette Goddard, that are now laughable. Still, none of the film's flaws take away from the enormity of the viewing experience. This is, and always will be, an amazing movie.

With one grand gesture, Chaplin went from being the world's most beloved film figure to its most controversial. He essentially put a big spotlight on his political views, which got him banned from the United States a little more than a decade later.

SPECIAL FEATURES: So far, this is the best Criterion disc this year. While the commentary track is a little pompous, there's a feature-length documentary on the making of the film, and other segments focusing on the film's importance in cinema history, including one focusing on Chaplin's original intentions to make a Napoleon movie. Fascinating.

American Graffiti (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

It's hard to believe that the guy who made those big-budget Star Wars films directed this charming, funny take on the end of the '50s. George Lucas, with help from his buddy Francis Ford Coppola, directed "Ronny" Howard in this thoroughly entertaining classic.

Then-little-known actor Richard Dreyfuss got his first big starring role here, and he would parlay it into a gig with a guy named Spielberg for a movie called Jaws. Howard would be equated with the '50s for a good chunk of the next decade, joining the cast of the long-running TV show Happy Days the following year. And Lucas would use his success to build momentum for his next project, a cute little movie about droids and space stations called Star Wars.

SPECIAL FEATURES: A new picture-in-picture commentary from Lucas gives you the pleasure of staring at his enormous chin as he chats about the film. You also get documentaries from previous editions.

The Hustler (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

As always, the Blu-ray format offers a chance to check out classic films in pristine fashion—and this one is a goodie. The high-definition transfer is mighty pretty, and a pool hall has never looked this shiny.

It's fun to watch Paul Newman's young, brash Fast Eddie Felson sass the classy, well-clad Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason, in an Oscar-nominated role). Newman would go on to win an Oscar playing the role again in Martin Scorsese's The Color of Money. That was a good film, but I prefer Newman's work in this classic.

If you have Blu-ray, and you didn't pick up the DVD, released about four years ago, get this one, and see why Newman was one of the best.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Plenty of carryovers from prior editions, including a Paul Newman commentary and many documentaries.

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