Today marks the 125th anniversary of Charlie Chaplin’s birthday. Countless video clips demonstrate his comic genius, but the enlightened aspect of his soul was never more apparent than in his monologue at the end of “The Great Dictator” which to this day remains one of cinema’s greatest political speeches. The film was released at the peak of Chaplin’s career, for shortly after he was investigated by the FBI, his personal life was sensationalized by the media, he was accused of being a communist sympathizer and was forced to leave the U.S. for Switzerland. Interesting facts about the The Great Dictator are recounted in the following passage from Chaplin’s Wikipedia page:
The 1940s saw Chaplin face a series of controversies, both in his work and in his personal life, which changed his fortunes and severely affected his popularity in the United States. The first of these was a new boldness in expressing his political beliefs. Deeply disturbed by the surge of militaristic nationalism in 1930s world politics, Chaplin found that he could not keep these issues out of his work. Parallels between himself and Adolf Hitler had been widely noted: the pair were born four days apart, both had risen from poverty to world prominence, and the German dictator wore the same toothbrush moustache as the Tramp. It was this perceived physical resemblance that supplied the pretext for the plot for Chaplin’s next film, The Great Dictator, which directly satirized Hitler and attacked fascism.
Chaplin spent two years developing the script, and began filming in September 1939 – six days after Britain declared war on Germany. He had submitted to using spoken dialogue, partly out of acceptance that he had no other choice, but also because he recognized it as a better method for delivering a political message. Making a comedy about Hitler was seen as highly controversial, but Chaplin’s financial independence allowed him to take the risk. “I was determined to go ahead,” he later wrote, “for Hitler must be laughed at.” Chaplin replaced the Tramp (while wearing similar attire) with “A Jewish Barber”, a reference to the Nazi party’s belief that he was a Jew. In a dual performance he also played the dictator “Adenoid Hynkel”, who parodied Hitler.
The Great Dictator spent a year in production, and was released in October 1940. There was a vast amount of publicity around the film, with a critic for the New York Times calling it “the most eagerly awaited picture of the year”, and it was one of the biggest money-makers of the era. The ending was unpopular, however, and generated controversy. Chaplin concluded the film with a six-minute speech in which he looked into the camera and professed his personal beliefs. Charles J. Maland has identified this overt preaching as triggering a decline in Chaplin’s popularity, and writes, “Henceforth, no movie fan would ever be able to separate the dimension of politics from [his] star image”. The Great Dictator received five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor.
The Great Dictator’s Speech
I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone – if possible – Jew, Gentile – black man – white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness – not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.
Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost….
The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men – cries out for universal brotherhood – for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world – millions of despairing men, women, and little children – victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people.
To those who can hear me, I say – 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. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish. …..
Soldiers! don’t give yourselves to brutes – men who despise you – enslave you – who regiment your lives – tell you what to do – what to think and what to feel! Who drill you – diet you – treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder. Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men – machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate – the unloved and the unnatural! Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty!
In the 17th Chapter of St Luke it is written: “the Kingdom of God is within man” – not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people have the power – the power to create machines. The power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.
Then – in the name of democracy – let us use that power – let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world – a decent world that will give men a chance to work – that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfill that promise. They never will!
Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people! Now let us fight to fulfill that promise! Let us fight to free the world – to do away with national barriers – to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness. Soldiers! in the name of democracy, let us all unite!