Tomania's dictator persecutes Jews in the ghetto and plans to invade Osterlich; but a Jewish barber replaces him and makes an inspirational speech.
In 1918 a Jewish barber (Charles Chaplin) fires a huge cannon and an anti-aircraft gun. He gets lost in the fog and helps Tomanian pilot Schultz (Reginald Gardiner). They fly upside down and crash, learning they lost the war. During the Depression Hynkel (Charles Chaplin) becomes Dictator of Tomania, speaking against liberty and for soldiers. Hynkel reprimands Herring (Billy Gilbert), and propaganda minister Garbitsch (Henry Daniell) tells Hynkel to be more violent against Jews. In the ghetto Hannah (Paulette Goddard) sees storm troopers take food, complains, and is pelted by tomatoes. The Jewish barber has amnesia and returns to his barbershop to find cobwebs and a trooper painting "JEW" on his window. Hannah helps the barber avoid arrest; but the barber is being hanged when Commander Schultz arrives and remembers the barber saved his life.
Hynkel tells Garbitsch to invade Osterlich and borrow money from the Jew Epstein. Mr. Jaeckel (Maurice Moscovitch) tells the barber to practice on Hannah, who talks dreamily while he prepares to shave her. She hopes to be happy. Hynkel orders strike leaders and strikers shot, but Garbitsch says they need skilled workers. Garbitsch promises Hynkel the world, and Hynkel plays with the globe. The barber shaves a man to Brahms music. Garbitsch tells Hynkel that Epstein won't loan to him. Schultz refuses to oppress the ghetto and is arrested. The barber goes out with Hannah, and they hear Hynkel ranting. Storm troopers destroy the ghetto. Escaped Schultz says one man must kill the tyrant; but Hannah puts coins in all the puddings, and the barber swallows three. She says killing is foolish. They learn that the barber is wanted for questioning. Schultz packs and leaves with the barber; but they are captured on the roof. The barber marches in a concentration camp. Jaeckel and Hannah go to Osterlich, and she writes to the barber.
Hynkel sticks a medal on Herring and then removes them as he declares war on Napaloni, who calls and is invited to visit. Hynkel greets the train of Bacteria dictator Napaloni (Jack Oakie). Garbitsch tells Hynkel how to make Napaloni feel inferior. In a stadium they review the army. At a ball Napaloni offers Hynkel a treaty; then he will remove troops; but they quarrel, and both gag on English mustard. Garbitsch tells Hynkel to sign and then invade. Schultz and the barber wear uniforms. Hynkel goes duck hunting but is arrested. The barber is taken for Hynkel as Tomania invades Osterlich. The people salute the barber, and Garbitsch says all must obey Hynkel. In his speech the barber says he doesn't want to be emperor but to help all people. Greed is making life violent, and he cries out for brotherhood, telling soldiers not to be machines. The barber urges all to fight for freedom and a united world. As Hannah sits up on a farm, he speaks to her about the future. She says, "Listen."
This political satire of perhaps the world's worst tyrant
at the height of his power was begun before the Austrian invasion
that is mocked. The interchangeability between the Dictator and
a Jewish barber shows how absurd are the Fascist policies that
tragically created so much misery.