In the second decade of the twentieth century, a man named Charlie Chaplin achieved world fame through cinema. He did so even before the cinema had come of age. Chaplin’s contribution to the development of cinema was nothing short of enormous. The time in which Chaplin’s career was flourishing, was also a time when the world was experiencing many problems. Chaplin’s personal beliefs, in combination with the events happening in the world at the time, were a driving force in what message one of his later films carried.
Many historians note the similarity of Chaplin to Hitler. One of the most apparent facts is that they were both born within four days of each other in the year 1889. Furthermore, the two men bore a resemblance as adults, and a demand for “strict control over their subordinates when, as adults, they achieved positions of power.” (Maland, 164) In the 1940’s, Chaplin chose to make a film entitled The Great Dictator, in which he played a Jewish ghetto resident under the regime of Adenoid Hynkel (also played by Chaplin). The similarity of Hynkel to Adolf Hitler wasn’t exactly a coincidence. Being Chaplin’s first sound film with dialogue, he decided to make it an attack on fascism. The leading symbol of fascism in that time, of course was Hitler. In the film, Hynkel is portrayed as a loud-mouthed fanatical fool. (McDonald, Conway, Ricci, 206) Chaplin always disliked the idea of being compared to the German ruler, despite the obvious similarities.
There is much evidence that Chaplin had a good reason to dislike the Nazis, despite the many similarities he had in his public appearance. He had a great dislike for authoritarian government, especially its dehumanizing aspects. These beliefs were brought into full light with a 1937 short story Chaplin wrote entitled: Rhythm: A story of Men in Macabre Movement. Al Hirschfeld said “Chaplin was on the side of the angels. He was for the downtrodden…” (Vance, 299) Chaplin’s memoirs and public statements made it clear that he felt great disgust with Anti-Semitism. He had spoken out against it many times, and it was clear that he had never intended it as a PR move. Also, keep in mind that during this time pro-Jewish feelings were not received warmly when openly expressed in the public.
The Nazis objected to Chaplin entirely, which is to be expected. Germany strove to cast a dark light on Charlie, and the Jews. An extremely Anti-Semitic paperback that was published in Nazi Germany insulting Jewish intellectuals and included Chaplin as one of them, calling him “a little Jewish acrobat, as disgusting as he is tedious.” (Maland, 172)
The film The Great Dictator was considered a turning point for Chaplin. He was no longer “The tramp” in films. A real job and a social standing, as a Jewish barber, had replaced his comical mannerisms and out-of-touch approach to life. His decision to do the...