Sunday, August 28, 2011

Charlie Chaplin: The Great Dictator's Final Speech

This is from The Great Dictator, a 1940 film  directed and starring Charlie Chaplin. The  film, an anti-fascist satire, is as much a judgment on Nazi Germany and all it stands for as a tribute to democracy and science. It is important to note that the United States was not yet at war when the film was released, only entering after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Yet, Europe was very much in the midst of war.

Chaplin, who was not Jewish, started thinking of making the film in 1938, before the hostilities of the Second World War. Although Chaplin's first talking picture was made 12 years after the introduction of sound to movies, it came at the right time. It was released, first in the U.S., on October 15, 1940. In 1941, it garnered five Academy Award nominations, including for Best Picture and Best Actor. It won none.

It's true that Chaplin was known for his comedy, notably the character of the little tramp that he created. The final speech might, to some, deflate the film's comedy. Yet, it has a purpose, as film critic Roger Ebert noted in a 2007 review:
The movie plays like a comedy followed by an editorial.

Chaplin (1889-1977) nevertheless was determined to keep the speech; it might have been his reason for making the film. He put the Little Tramp and $1.5 million of his own money on the line to ridicule Hitler (and was instrumental in directing more millions to Jewish refugee centers). He made his statement, it found a large audience, and in the stretches leading up to the final speech, he shows his innate comic genius. It is a funny film, which we expect from Chaplin, and a brave one. He never played a little man with a mustache again.
Was Chaplin prescient? Or just aware that some men are morally evil? The words spoken are relevant today for persons who value freedom and humanity and who see the value of democracy and democratic institutions. The Great Dictator was added in 1997 to the National Film Registry by the United States Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant."

The Great Dictator: A poster from the 1940 film. "I am for people. I can't help it," Chaplin once said.
: Wikipedia

The text of the speech can be found here.

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