Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Great Dictator

This was Chaplin's first talkie and probably his greatest film. It was made in 1940. Released on 7th March 1941. Written and directed by him. Chaplin plays Hynkel, Dictator of Tomania and his double , a Jewish barber. Jack Oakie plays Napaloni, the Dictator of Bacteria. Both being references to Hitler and Mussolini. When released, this movie was banned in all occupied countries by the Nazis. In the occupied Balkans, it was screened once to a German audience. The members of a resistance group switched the reels in a military cinema and replaced a comedic opera with a copy of this film which they had smuggled in from Greece. So, a group of German soldiers enjoyed the screening of this film until they realised what it was. Some left the cinema and others were reported to have fired shots at the screen. Garbitsch is a reference to Josef Goebbels. Goebbels had a copy of The Great Dictator seized from one of the German occupied countries and then brought it to Hitler. Hitler screened the film alone except for his personal projectionist. When it was over, it is said that he demanded to see it again. Beyond that, his reaction is not known. Chaplin wrote," I'd give anything to know what he thought of it."
How did Chaplin accomplish the upside down plane stunt? By turning the prop airplane upside-down with the actors strapped in, then by turning the camera upside-down as well and just pouring the water on the studio floor making it appear to go upwards.
Let me tell you that it was Chaplin who kept this style of mustache first and Hitler had the audacity to borrow it from the most famous celebrity in the world. The two men were born within four days of each other. Paulette Godard, Chaplin's wife at that time, plays the barber's beloved. Chaplin hits one of his highest moments in the amazing sequence where he performs a dance of love with a large inflated globe of the world. The hunger for world domination has never been more rhapsodically expressed. The slapstick is swift and sharp. It was still not enough for Chaplin. He ends the film with the barber's six-minute speech calling for peace and prophesying a hopeful future for troubled mankind. The lyricism and the sheer humanity of it are still stirring. This was the last appearance of Chaplin's little tramp character and not coincidentally, it was his first talkie.
"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 man, white. We all want to help one another, human beings are like that. We all want to live by each other’s 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 has 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 inventions cries out for the goodness in men, 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 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 will 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. 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! 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 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 fulfil that promise. 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 all men’s happiness. Soldiers! In the name of democracy: let us all unite!" This speech by Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin is perhaps the greatest speech ever made particularly in the context of events just after the Second World War. In the 1940s, when the United States was at peace with Nazi Germany and around the time when Adolf Hitler’s end was nigh, a film “The Great Dictator” was made. Directed, produced, scored and written by the legendary Charlie Chaplin, the film went on to condemn Hitler like no other film of the era. Interestingly, the film was Chaplin’s first talking film. Chaplin was the only producer who continued to make mute films around that time. Without doubt, the film turned out to be Chaplin’s most commercially successful film. Charlie Chaplin played two roles in the film: that of a Jewish Barber, and of Adenoid Hynkel (parody of Adolf Hitler) who is the dictator of a fictional nation Tomania (parody of Germany). Towards the end, the Jewish Barber goes on to become the Führer of Tomania. The speech that we portray today in our series of the The Greatest Speeches deserves to be a part of this column. On YouTube, the speech is “the greatest speech ever made”. The speech is delivered by the Barber (Chaplin) after he is made Führer of Tomania. Because of his humble background, at first, he is hesitant to get on the podium. Once he gets up on the podium, for the first forty seconds or so, he utters not a single word. And then he begins. The speech starts with ever so touching words, “I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor.” He goes on to talk about inequality that has clouded humanity and how greed “has barricaded the world with hate”. Towards the end is when the speech becomes worthy of being called “the greatest”, where he addresses his soldiers. “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!!” The unnatural men, and the machine men being the dictators. Chaplin, hands down the greatest comedian of cinema, in what was his first talking movie, delivers a speech that manages to touch the very core of your heart, putting into words what all of us have thought before, but have been too hesitant to utter; words that inspire us to the verge of tears, making us realise that we have the power- the power to do the impossible, to break free of the chains that tie us down, to break through national barriers, looks past the differences in man, and unite. Unite, to make this world a better place, a place where there is an inexhaustible amount of peace, and love, and happiness.

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