You are now entering the Jewish Currents archive.

October 15: The Great Dictator

October 15, 2013
dictator1Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator was released in the U.S. on this date in 1940. Written, directed, and scored by Chaplin, the film has him performing as Adenoid Hynkel, the ruthless, anti-Semitic dictator of Tomainia, and an unnamed Jewish barber who is Hynkel’s look-alike. Other characters include Benzino Napaloni, Dictator of Bacteria, a parody of Mussolini; Garbitsch, the Minister of Propaganda, a parody of Joseph Goebbels; and Herring, the Minister of War, a parody of Hermann Göring. Some of the signs in the shop windows of the Jewish ghetto in the film are in Esperanto, the international language created by L.L. Zamenoff, which Hitler had condemned as a Jewish plot to dilute German culture. Chaplin’s popularity in Germany had prompted the Nazis to publish a book in 1934 titled, The Jews Are Looking at You, in which Chaplin was described as “a disgusting Jewish acrobat” (in fact, Chaplin was not Jewish). A friend of Chaplin’s, Ivor Montague, sent him a copy of this book and always believed that it prompted his creation of The Great Dictator. According to Jürgen Trimborn’s biography of Leni Riefenstahl, Chaplin repeatedly viewed Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda film, Triumph of the Will, to learn to mimic Hitler’s mannerisms. The Great Dictator premiered at a time when the U.S. had not entered World War II, and its popularity definitely helped stoke American anti-Nazi sentiment. Yet Chaplin said, after the war, that had he known the extent of Nazi barbarity, he would not have satirized Hitler. To watch Adenoid Hynkel dancing with a globe, look below. To see the final speech of the film, by the Jewish Barber who is standing in for the dictator, look below that. “Only the unloved hate - the unloved and the unnatural! Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty!” —Charlie Chaplin, as the Barber pretending to be Adenoid Hynkel