Charlie Chaplin received his second, or only acting nomination (depending how one looks at his nomination of sorts for the Circus) for portraying the dictator Adenoid Hynkel, and a Jewish barber in The Great Dictator.
Charlie Chaplin portrays a dual role of course so it is best to examine the two performances separately. Firstly Adenoid Hynkel clearly a parody of Adolf Hitler, especially since Chaplin's on screen persona strongly resembled Hitler. He plays this half his performance entirely for laughs. I would say he does succeed in doing this, although the question is how much of the humor comes from his direction and how much does it come from his actual performance.
For example his Hynkel speech that opens his scenes as Hynkel is certainly enjoyable. He is certainly good at being satirical in his over the top speeches that do satirize Hitler's speeches quite well. I will say though that the funniest part of this scene though is the translators quiet responses to Hynkel's overly emotional statements, which certianly are not part of Chaplin's performance but rather his script and direction.
I will say his performance does go back and forth to the matter of the comedy of Hynkel. It is always in part with many of the crazy things Hynkel does, but I will give Chaplin most certianly credit for his physical movements, and comedic timing which are both strong. I will say also though that Hynkel is not a particularly consistent character since after all shouldn't he have the Hitler voice all the time, and not revert to Chaplin's voice, but hey its a comedy so it really is fine anyways.
Now how about his performance as the Jewish Barber. Well I will say he does contrast the two characters well, showing Hynkel to be forceful but the Barber to be very restrained and quiet. The Barber is made certianly a nice little character by Chaplin. He is a charming nice man who really wants nothing more than to have a quiet life.
With the Jewish Barber I would again say the comedy that comes from his performance does come from both from his direction, but also most certainly his comedic reactions. I would say this is shown best with the scene where the five men are going to be chose for a suicidal mission by which one finds a coin in their pudding, but the problem is there is a coin in each of their puddings. The set up is funny, the music Chaplin uses is funny, as well is the reaction of the other men, but Chaplin's reactions are great as well, so his performance does compliment, or complete much of the comedy from Chaplin's direction.
The Barber is not a particularly complicated character though, he is just a nice little man with a nice little barbershop and a nice little lover interest. Chaplin though is good at being nice though. He is only really required to do more than be funny and nice, in his final scene. The final scene being a big dramatic speech not only to end the film, but also gives a message to the viewing audience basically to fight against the way of the Nazis. Chaplin's performance of the speech is intense, passionate, and powerful. I must say it really is technically out of character, but hey it does work, and he was doing it for a good cause so I really cannot fault him too much.
Overall this is a performance I admire very much, as well as enjoy. The only question is how much great acting does Chaplin technically do. Well that it hard to say, but being funny should not be overlooked I think, and I felt he was funny here. He did not make too really complex characters, but rather two effective ones still. He is not always consistent with either characters, but I feel these inconsistencies do work in his favor. I will say I am not completely sure of this rating but I will stay with it nonetheless, because although I might not let other actors get away with some of what he does, I also do not think any other actor really could have given a performance as effective as him in either part.