charlie chaplin, history, movies

Hynkel, Garbitsch, and Herring

This past weekend I bought the Criterion Collection version of The Great Dictator, which, if you have not seen, I HIGHLY recommend. I think it might have just bumped out City Lights and become my favorite Charlie Chaplin movie.

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The Great Dictator is hilarious, thoughtful, clever, but above all, it’s a brave film. To make a comedy/satire of WWII as it’s happening is one thing, but to take a stand and speak out against one of the most fearsome men in history takes balls. The film was released in 1940, in the height of Hitler’s power. Hitler reportedly watched it, twice. I wonder what he thought of the ending speech (excerpt below):

“…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 and 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 as cattle, 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. Only the unloved and the unnatural. Soldiers – don’t fight for slavery, fight for liberty.

In the seventeenth chapter of Saint 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, the people.

You the people have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness. You the people have the power to make life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then in the name of democracy let’s 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 you the future and old age and security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power, but they lie. They do not fulfil their 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, 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!”

(Side note: while watching it, I always get distracted by Charlie’s ability to not blink for like 5 minutes.)  That speech is so universal and powerful, I can’t help but get chills whenever I hear it. Obviously a movie made in 1940 can seem dated in some ways, but so much of The Great Dictator is timeless. I love that about Charlie’s movies: beneath all the slapstick and humor, he always cuts to the core of humanity.

Give a silent film actor a voice and you might be surprised at what you hear….

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