The film that dared to laugh at Hitler

Charlie Chaplin hated Hitler. The German dictator was born the same week he was in 1899, and dared to wear a similar mustache. Most of all, he hated what Hitler was doing. Chaplin considered his 1940 film project The Great Dictator to be a mission. Not only was the movie a comedy that portrayed the "fictional" dictator Adenoid Hynkel of Tomainia as a clown, it interwove plenty of horrific moments and commentary on the real world as The Nazis' grip on Europe expanded. At the same time, it exposed the inner weakness of powerful autocrats. But The Great Dictator came close to never being released.

It's hardly surprising that Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator was banned in Germany, and in every country occupied by Germany, in 1940. A film that mocked Adolf Hitler was never going to be the Nazi High Command's first choice of Friday night entertainment. The more surprising thing, from today's perspective, is that Chaplin was warned that it might not be shown in Britain or the US, either. Britain's appeasement policy kept going until March 1939, and the US didn't enter World War Two until December 1941, a year after The Great Dictator was released, so when Chaplin was scripting and shooting the film – his first proper talkie – colleagues at the studio he co-owned were afraid that no government would let it be seen.

"I began receiving alarming messages from United Artists," he wrote in his autobiography. "They had been advised… that I would run into censorship trouble. Also the English office was very concerned about an anti-Hitler picture and doubted whether it could be shown in Britain. More worrying letters came from the New York office imploring me not to make the film, declaring it would never be shown in England or America."

Read the story behind Chaplin's mission and the legacy of The Great Dictator at BBC Culture.

Then if you like, you can watch the film.

[via Damn Interesting]