The Great Dictator

The Great Dictator (1940) was Charlie Chaplin's first talking picture, and the the only major feature film of the time that satirized Hitler and the Nazi Party. Chaplin had received as a gift a copy of The Jews Are Watching You, a book published in Germany in 1934, in which he was denounced as "a disgusting Jewish acrobat." One wonders whether this personal attack served as an impetus for The Great Dictator, of which Chaplin was the screenwriter, producer, director and starring actor.

"Adenoid Hinkel," played by Chaplin, is a dictator obsessed with world domination and racial hatred. In one famous scene, Hinkel dances with an inflatable globe to music by Wagner. In another, he gives a frenzied speech in German-sounding gibberish, replete with such words as schnitzel, sauerkraut, liverwurst, katzenjammer kids, cheese and crackers, and lager beer -- thus mocking the oratorical style of Hitler.

Chaplin also plays a Hinkel look-alike, an unnamed barber in the Jewish ghetto. (The ghetto scenes depict Jewish shops with signage in the ESPERANTO language, which Hitler had condemned as a Jewish conspiracy to subvert German culture. The film's use of ESPERANTO was a swipe at Hitler, as well as a nod to the ideals of the language and its author, L.L. Zamenhof.) Disguised in a uniform, the barber escapes from a concentration camp and finds himself impersonating Der Phooey (Der Fuhrer). As the Great Dictator, he gives a moving address which contained Chaplin's own appeal for peace, democracy and human decency. Below are the text of the speech in its entirety and a video-clip.

I'm sorry but I don't want to be an emperor. That's not my business. I don't want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone if possible; Jew, Gentile, black men, white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each others' happiness, not by each other's misery. We don't want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone.

The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way. Greed has poisoned men's souls; has barricaded the world with hate; has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge as made us cynical; our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost. The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these things cries out for the goodness in man; cries out for universal brotherhood; for the unity of us all.

Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women, and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people. To those who can hear me, I say "Do not despair." The misery that has come 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 these brutes who despise you, 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 like cattle and use you 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 men! With the love of humanity in your hearts! Don't hate! Only the unloved hate; the unloved and the unnatural. Soldiers! Don't fight for slavery! Fight for liberty!

In the seventeenth chapter of St. Luke, it is written that the kingdom of God is within man, not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people, have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then in the name of democracy, let us 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 youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfil that promise. They never will! Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people! Now let us fight to free the world! To do away with national barriers! To 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 the happiness of us all. Soldiers, in the name of democracy, let us unite!

Hannah, can you hear me? Wherever you are, look up! Look up, Hannah! The clouds are lifting! The sun is breaking through! We are coming out of the darkness into the light! We are coming into a new world; a kinder world, where men will rise above their greed, their hate and their brutality. Look up, Hannah! The soul of man has been given wings and at last he is beginning to fly. He is flying into the rainbow! Into the light of hope! Look up, Hannah! Look up!

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