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O My America: Charlie Chaplin Speaks

Lawrence Bush
December 2, 2017

by Lawrence Bush

I GOT IN THE MOOD for Charlie Chaplin tonight, and I watched The Great Dictator for the first time in many years. This prescient 1940 film combines satire, both brilliant and low-brow, with balletic slapstick, sentimental shtik, wonderfully simple stage-settings, and chillingly relevant political insight. The speech that Chaplin delivers at the film’s end — as a Jewish barber standing in at the microphone for his look-alike, the dictator Adenoid Hynkel — is one of the most beautiful articulation of old-fashioned humanism ever, and Paulette Goddard’s final word in the film,“Listen!” (not in the clip below, unfortunately) is more compelling than any revolutionary call to arms. Chaplin has this remarkable ability to humanize everybody who is watching and bring us all to a sense of collective silliness. Check it out — or better, stream the whole two hours and see one of the great classics of progressive art.

Lawrence Bush edits Jewish Currents

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.