In 1938, Charlie Chaplin set to work on his first talking film that would ridicule the German tyrant Adolf Hitler. In preparation, for the film, Chaplin watched newsreels of Hitler, to study his mannerisms and his infamous oratorical style. When word got out that Chaplin was going to mock Hitler’s Nazi regime, it created problems for him. Undeterred, he carried on and completed the film as planned. (Interestingly, Chaplin said in his autobiography in 1964 that had he really known the true extent of the Holocaust during WW2, he never would have made the film. But as it was blessed ignorance allowed him to carry on and create a Hollywood masterpiece.)
The film premiered at the Capitol cinema in New York on October 15th 1940 and went on to draw eager audiences worldwide, expect in Spain, Italy and neutral Ireland, in which Hitler got it banned. It would go on to become Chaplin’s most financially successful film of his career.
Set in the fictitious country called Tomainia (understood to be Germany), Chapman played two roles, the dictator Adenoid Hynkel and a Jewish barber from the ghetto, who had a striking resembles to each other. Exploiting this situation, the dictator Hynkel is accidentally arrested, allowing the barber to pretend to be Hynkel, who then preceeds to reverse all of the dictator’s policies of hatred and injustice.
The Great Dictator (1940) is best remembered for its clever use of slapstick and in particular in mocking the film’s central character, the
Nazi German Tomanian despot Adolf Hitler Adenoid Hynkel. While some of the most memorable scene are the gags that fill the spaces in between the film’s plot, such as the hilarious moment where the Barber and Commander Pilot Shultz are flying upside down in a plane or the extended set piece involving the dud missile, the scene that is often most talked about is the infamously solemn speech or monologue made by Charlie Chaplin at the end of the film.
From beginning to end, the speech is an appeal for kindness, tolerance and solidarity. Importantly, Chaplin’s infamous words were also meant as a real offering of hope in a socio-political world of the late 1930’s gone mad. At one point looking straight into the camera, Chaplin declares to his audience “ To those who can hear me: Do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed — the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress.”
Interestingly, by the time it was first heard in 1940, the world was at war and even though it was a fictitious speech made for his political satire, its message of unity and action was most welcomed.
Photo Credit: The header movie still image of actor Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator is presumably owned by United Artists Pictures. I make use of the image under the rationale of ‘fair use’ to help illustrate arguably one of cinema history’s greatest scenes. I am not the uploader of the You Tube clip.