Charlie Chaplin’s Final Speech in The Great Dictator: A Statement Against Greed, Hate, Intolerance & Fascism (1940)

The nar­row “tooth­brush mus­tache” caught on in the late nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, first in the Unit­ed States and soon there­after across the Atlantic. When Char­lie Chap­lin put one on for a film in 1914, he became its most famous wear­er — at least until Adolf Hitler rose to promi­nence a cou­ple of decades lat­er. By that point Chap­lin had become the most famous com­e­dy star in the world, which may have inspired the Nazi Par­ty leader, a known fan of Chap­lin’s work, to adopt the same mus­tache as a kind of tool of self-advance­ment. Chap­lin him­self could hard­ly have approved of his new dop­pel­gänger, and it trou­bled him to dis­cov­er their oth­er shared qual­i­ties: their births in April of 1889, their poor child­hoods, their love of Wag­n­er.

Still, as an invet­er­ate enter­tain­er, Chap­lin grasped the comedic poten­tial of his and Hitler’s par­al­lel icon­ic sta­tus. The result, released in 1940, was The Great Dic­ta­tor, his first gen­uine sound film. Chap­lin had con­tin­ued mak­ing silent pic­tures, and refin­ing his sig­na­ture visu­al humor, well into the era of “talkies.”

But he could only have done so much to ridicule Hitler, who had come to pow­er in large part through speech­es broad­cast over the radio, with­out being able to use his voice as well. Yet he deliv­ers his most mem­o­rable lines not in the role of Hitler sur­ro­gate Ade­noid Hynkel, but that of the unnamed Jew­ish bar­ber who — through, of course, sev­er­al absurd turns of events — ends up mis­tak­en for Hynkel and made to address the nation.

“I’m sor­ry, but I don’t want to be an emper­or,” says Chap­lin-as-the-Bar­ber-as-Hynkel. “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 want to live by each other’s hap­pi­ness, not by each other’s mis­ery.” Through­out the three-and-a-half-minute mono­logue, he speaks against “greed,” “clev­er­ness,” “nation­al bar­ri­ers,” and “the hate of men”; he advo­cates for “kind­ness and gen­tle­ness,” “uni­ver­sal broth­er­hood,” “a world of rea­son,” and “the love of human­i­ty.” These may not be espe­cial­ly pre­cise terms, but, know­ing his pub­lic well — much bet­ter, indeed, than Hitler ever knew his — Chap­lin also knew just when to go broad.

Relat­ed con­tent:

How Did Hitler Rise to Pow­er? : New TED-ED Ani­ma­tion Pro­vides a Case Study in How Fas­cists Get Demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly Elect­ed

When Mahat­ma Gand­hi Met Char­lie Chap­lin (1931)

Carl Jung Psy­cho­an­a­lyzes Hitler: “He’s the Uncon­scious of 78 Mil­lion Ger­mans.” “With­out the Ger­man Peo­ple He’d Be Noth­ing” (1938)

When Char­lie Chap­lin Entered a Chap­lin Look-Alike Con­test & Came in 20th Place

The Famous Down­fall Scene Explained: What Real­ly Hap­pened in Hitler’s Bunker at the End?

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.


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