80 years ago was "The Great Dictator" bypremiered in New York. When the film was shown in London two months later, the first reactions from the press and the public to the Hitler satirical spilled over the Atlantic.
"A truly outstanding work by a truly great artist and – from a certain angle – maybeever produced, "wrote the New York Times. and it was not yet in sight that the German troops would be stopped. The American audience was thus confronted with a film material that could not have been more topical and threatening.
Insightful production history
Charlie Chaplin was one of the greatest film artists and comedians in cinema in 1940. That he had chosen such a sensitive topic with his first real sound film, of all things, surprised many. And Chaplin himself later said that he would not have been able to direct the film if the full extent of the Nazi terror had already been evident back then: "If I had known about the horror in the German concentration camps, I would not have 'The Great Dictator' can do."
You can read about the genesis of the film in a superbly equipped picture and text volume published by the German, but internationally operating Taschen Verlag. The American publisher Paul Duncan has compiled an impressive wealth of materials and photos for the volume "The Charlie Chaplin Archive" and was able to fall back on many previously inaccessible sources. Duncan documents the work of the director and actor with all the details – a central chapter is dedicated to the film "The Great Dictator".
A delicate undertaking – laughing at Hitler
"For me, the funniest thing in the world can be to make show-offs and pompos in high positions ridiculous," Chaplin commented on his cinematic concept. "The bigger the show-off you're working on, the better the chances of a funny film – and it would be difficult to find another show-off of Hitler's caliber."
The dispute between the native Briton Chaplin and the Austrian-born Adolf Hitler had been going on for a long time, as can be read from Duncan. Chaplin has been denounced by national forces in Germany since the 1920s. As early as 1926, the inflammatory pamphlet "Der Stürmer" read: "Charlie Chaplin is a Jew … His actions are those of a day thief who repeatedly comes into conflict with the law." Chaplin was given a "fictitious family tree," according to Paul Duncan.
Chaplin wasn't a Jew. But he refused to express this publicly throughout his life. "He says anyone who denies this is playing into the hands of the anti-Semites," said British politician and filmmaker Ivor Montagu. Solidarity with the Jews – that was what Chaplin wanted to express with his attitude and his film. The result: when he was in Berlin in March 1931, there were anti-Chaplin demonstrations in front of his hotel, organized by the National Socialists.
Charlie Chaplin as Adenoid Hynkel alias Adolf Hitler in "The Great Dictator"
Hitler and Chaplin: Both wore the famous trimmed mustache
The public interested in film and politics noticed early on that Chaplin and Hitler, both born in April 1889, had a lot in common on the outside: "I lived in Munich in 1921 (…) and on the street I often noticed a man who met me vaguely reminiscent of a militant edition of Charlie Chaplin because of his characteristic mustache and springy gait, "wrote the author William Walter Crotch in the magazine" New Statesman and Nation ". His grocer, said Crotch, then told him that it was a Mr. Adolf Hitler from Braunau in Austria, the leader of a tiny political splinter group.
So it wasn't even that big of a leap for Chaplin to portray Hitler in film. But the director and actor later had to overcome resistance from various directions before the first take on "The Great Dictator" fell. The project was also controversial among the American public. Conservative circles protested. The decisive factor was US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who personally intervened with Chaplin and asked him to stick to the film project. Chaplin had previously seriously considered giving up the project.
In Germany, "The Great Dictator" only came to cinemas in 1958. Two test screenings in front of a German audience immediately after the end of the Second World War met with a positive response, but the American authorities in Germany decided not to bring the film into theaters.
You can read about the exciting production history and many other stages of Charlie Chaplin's artistic career in the volume: ""(" The Charlie Chaplin Archive "), edited by Paul Duncan in collaboration with the Chaplin family and the" Cineteca di Bologna "in" Taschen Verlag ", ISBN 978-3-8365-3840-4.
This is a slightly revised version of an article that was first published on December 11th, 2015.