In honor of the 129th anniversary of this film pioneer’s birth, here is a short clip of one of his most inspired moments. Chaplin had viewed Leni Riefenstahl’s propaganda essay, Triumph of the Will, and was inspired to make The Great Dictator as a response to the social oppression he had been informed of by friends and the increasingly militaristic climate created by Hitler and the Nazis.
Ironically, filming began the same week in September 1939 that Hitler invaded Poland, triggering World War II. While Europe and the British Commonwealth were at war, the US sat it out until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. Chaplin’s satire, his first film with sound, was playing for US audiences in 1940 and became his biggest hit. There is little doubt it had an impact on the American audiences as the war raged in Europe.
More often than not, art can reach that part of the human psyche impervious to hard news or political posturing. We salute the “little tramp” for his prescience and determination, and post this as an amusingly serious reminder that the world has not evolved all that much in the past 78 years.