The GREAT Dictator: A Relevant Chaplin Classic

CHARLIE CHAPLIN…I am pretty sure that I don’t need to give any introduction about who he is. Almost all of us have seen some or other funny act of his. So, today I am going to tell a story about one of his greatest movies…THE GREAT DICTATOR. Out of many of his great works, this one is my favourite. Not just me, even Charlie Chaplin regarded this as one of his best works. Most importantly, unlike most of the Chaplin movies, which were comic in nature with some subtle message, this one is an out-and-out movie hitting out at a particular ideology. So, come on let’s laugh with the Great Dictator…!!!!!


This was around the time in 1935. Hitler was a cult and emphatic leader of his time. He was the one who predicted about Economic Depression and also revived the German economy back on track. His appeal expanded throughout the world and slowly the world was thriving for a leader like him everywhere in the world. Instead, the relations between the US and Germany were quite good. They had formed an organization ‘German-American Sympathizers’ in America which held youth training cams. A huge rally was held in Madison Square Garden and was attended by 20,000 fascist Americans.

America was not much interested in getting involved in WWII. Actually, in 1939, 96% of Americans were against America joining the war. It was only after the attack at Pearl Harbour, that the US decided to enter the war. So, Chaplin wanted to bring the US on the right side. So, we can see that, at that time, the world had absolutely NO idea about Hitler’s true face. Even if it did, no one had the guts to challenge Hitler’s stature at that time. But, Chaplin was just not ‘no one’. It also shows, what a true visionary Chaplin was.

Old Hollywood's tweet - "Charlie Chaplin behind the camera on the set of The Great Dictator (1940) " - Trendsmap

Pic: Charlie Chaplin behind the camera on the sets

Idea of the Film

Regarding the idea of the film. Chaplin was given this idea by his friend Alexander Koda (a British filmmaker and producer). During a summer at Pebbles Beach, which was a place of millionaires, he was with two of his friends. Tim Durant, a wealthy young man and Dan James, an aspiring writer and ardent Marxist. They decided to work together on a film and that’s when this idea got materialized. But, when the idea was released in the press, the reaction was baffling. Hollywood was not at all okay with the film. All the big faces and producers neither wanted to get involved in any way nor expected the movie to get any decent response worldwide. As a result, the movie was not getting any finance. Then, Chaplin took a huge risk and produced the movie by himself.

Also, it was the first time that Chaplin was doing a talking film. He thought, that if it stays a silent film, it would be like just any other comedy film of his. As per the idea, he decided to play two roles, one of HITLER and the other of TRAMP (a poor Jew barber returning from WW I). In Chaplin’s own words “Great Dictator is My First Picture, where the History is greater than the little Tramp”. So, he started writing a proper screenplay. The 300-page long screenplay was finally completed by 1938. the shoot was started on 9th September 1939, which also happened to be just 6 days after the start of WW II.

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Pic: Charlie Chaplin with wife Paulette Goddard on the night of the premiere


The movie was finally released in October 1940. On the night of the premiere, Chaplin also introduced Paulette Goddard as his wife. Defeating all expectations, with $17,000 on the first capitol day. The film was widely celebrated wherever it was released. Interestingly, in Britain which was initially quite reluctant about the movie, fearing it might enrage Hitler, the movie was a big hit there. But, France being under German control then, meant that the French people were able to see it only in 1945 (widely liked there as well). And, I don’t think I need to tell you that it was banned in Germany because of the INTOLERANT chancellor there. Also, it was banned in Germany’s ally countries like Spain, Japan and Peru. Before this movie, ‘You Nazty Spy!’ and ‘The Testament of Dr Mabuse’ were previous attempts to portray the real face of Hitler to the world, but both got buried under scrutiny and ban. So, making this movie work was a challenge in itself.

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Pic: Chaplin and Goddard in a scene from the movie

Portrayal of the Nazi Dictatorship

The movie is set in an imaginary country called ‘TOMAINIA’. Now, there is one reference after the other in the movie that will anyway make you believe that you are watching Hitler in the Nazi era. There are frequent talks about concentration camps and Kristallnacht (the ‘2002’ moment in German history). By that time, around 30,000 Jews were already sent to concentration camps. In one scene Belluci (playing Goering, Hitler’s right-hand man) comes up and happily says that I have discovered a gas that will kill everybody. There is an indirect reference to Zyklon (the gas that was used to kill Jews in the concentration camps). Surprisingly, by that time, people didn’t know about that. It again shows what a visionary Chaplin was.

In the movie, the Nazis talk about scapegoating one community and undertaking military expansion. Further, there is a scene, where the Nazis ask the tramp to do the Nazi salute, and when he refuses, he is slapped. Then the scene where people are surrounding Hitler and making paintings and sculptures of him (Well…Godi Media…you know). The hilarious scene, where Hitler is getting his speech typed. He is saying a large sentence, and she is typing one or two words, and Hitler is like ‘WTF’. It is a known fact that Hitler and Mussolini (dictator from Hitler) were very good friends. Chaplin also kept a character resembling Mussolini. The scenes between the two are extremely hilarious and funny. Especially the way, they perfectly depict the traits of fascist ideology.

Read my article on Holocaust to know more about the Nazi Concentration Camps

Playing Hitler

Firstly, let me point out an interesting fact. Hitler was born just 4 days after Chaplin. Two figures born so close were at crossroads in the movie. Portraying Hitler was and is not an easy job. But, Chaplin has done it with so much ease, as if it was just a cakewalk for him. For the role, he conducted large research into Hitler’s way of giving speeches and gathering crowds. But, he tweaked one thing, what he says. Instead of the hateful and provocative speeches, he used to utter just some ‘gibberish’ whenever he played Hitler. This was to make it look a little funny and out of context, but the message was clear. Interestingly, both the characters played by Champlin; Tramp and Hitler are fools. But what separates them is their ideology. While one is hateful, intolerant and evil, the other is but the latter is kind, brave and liberal. One of the lines by Hitler in the movie is…..“Democracy is Fragrant…Liberty is odious…Freedom of Speech is Objectionable”.

The Great Dictator (1940) | I Draw on My Wall

Pic: Hitler playing with the Globe in the movie

Some Great Scenes

There are two standout scenes for me that I would like to talk about. Firstly, there is a scene, where the Nazi forces are throwing tomatoes at a miserable Jewish lady and her house. That’s exactly what happened during Kristallnacht, except that day stones were used in place of tomatoes. This is one of the strongest scenes in the movie, in my opinion, resembling the horror day, in a darkly comic way. Secondly, there is a scene of printing press. One paper after the other is coming up there. In one scene, the newspaper flashes ‘Riots in Tomania’ which is followed by the next paper flashing ‘Hinkle party takes Power’. Now, such a powerful scene this is and how well it establishes the connection between the two.

There is a great scene, which can even be counted in the list of Greatest scenes of all time. In the scene, Chaplin (playing Hitler) has a large globe in his hands. He is playing with it, in the most carefree manner (SRK’s scene from Yes Boss!). In that scene, he is not Hitler, but Chaplin himself. The scene shows the ‘vision’ of a dictator and how he wants to rule the world. Chaplin actually filmed the whole scene in one take. Not just that, the whole globe bursts at the end, which in a way shows what will happen to the world in the hands of a dictator.

Also Read My Article on an Indian Classic MUGHAL-E-AZAM

The Last Speech

By 1940, Chapin was done with the whole shoot. Now, in the end, he wanted to leave the audience with hope, a hope for a better world. So, he decided to end the movie with a speech. Keeping such a long and sensitive speech as the climax was a huge risk in itself. Also, he breaks the ‘FOURTH WALL’ principle during this scene. This speech is given by the Tramp, who everyone is thinking of as Hitler (SRK’s scene from FAN!). Now, everyone is expecting him to say the hateful stuff he usually says. But, what comes out of his mouth is a complete surprise. He gives the message of peace, harmony and ‘Democracy’. The speech “I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor”  is perhaps the greatest speech ever made and much needed in today’s times. So, in a way, Chaplin gives the right message, with the utmost subtlety and uses the very villain to deliver that message. Just Wow…!!!!!

The Great Dictator - Charlie Chaplin's Enduring Speech :: Charter for Compassion

Pic: The Last Speech from The Great Dictator


The subheading is not my word, but it was said by the legendary Naseeruddin Shah. And after watching not just this, but many of Chaplin’s movies, I couldn’t agree more. Instead, I am also very much in awe of his filmmaking. The way he has mixed different genres in the film (comedy, serious, emotional). Also how brilliantly he has used Music in the movie (that too when he was using music for the first time in a movie)   There are not one but multiple points in the film that makes it great. It’s a political satire with Juvenalian, Horation and LIBERAL values titled (Yes..Google the two words). The title itself is sarcastic, calling him a ‘Great’ Dictator and then bashing the very image. Jews who were being persecuted are shown as relatable and the Nazis are shown as jokes and laughing stock. Chaplin doesn’t leave any chance to ridicule and mock the hateful Nazis, but interestingly, the only weapon he uses is that of Laughter.

Chaplin, himself being a Jew, wanted to showcase the persecution of Jews to the whole world. As I pointed out above, how visionary he was. How brilliantly he portrayed the stuff that the world didn’t even know about. Also, for a fact, the reality of persecution of Jews became public only after WWII. Surprisingly, Chaplin said, “If I had known this, I would never have made the movie as I couldn’t make a mockery of the Genocide”. The movie is also a great example of how effective a tool cinema is to communicate a message. Also, how one can propagate his ideology, by not inciting hate but by spreading the message of peace and harmony (Vivek Agnihotri must watch this). Today, in the hateful and intolerant environment, this movie is even more relatable. While I thank Charlie Chaplin for such an epic work, I also hope that one day we also overcome the era of tyranny and   I wish I could have written the whole speech here (you all can read t easily), but I will leave you with at least a summary of it. Read, Believe and Unite…!!!!!


Let us fight to free the world – to do away with national barriers – to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance
In the 17th Chapter of St Luke, it is written: “the Kingdom of God is within man” – not one man nor a group of men, but in all men!
You don’t hate!
Only the unloved hate – the unloved and the unnatural!
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
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…!!!!!



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