|The Great Dictator|
|Directed by||Charlie Chaplin
|Produced by||Charlie Chaplin|
|Written by||Charlie Chaplin|
|Music by||Charlie Chaplin
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Release date(s)||October 15, 1940|
|Running time||124 min.|
The Great Dictator is a comedy film written, directed, produced by, and starring Charlie Chaplin. First released in October 1940, it was Chaplin's first true talking picture as well as his most commercially successful film, and more importantly, was the only major film of its period to bitterly satirize Nazism and Adolf Hitler.
The film is unusual for its period, as the United States was still formally at peace with Nazi Germany. Chaplin's film advanced a stirring, controversial condemnation of Hitler, fascism, antisemitism, and the Nazis, the latter of whom he excoriates in the film as "machine men, with machine minds and machine hearts".
The film begins during a battle of World War I. The protagonist is an unnamed Jewish private (Charlie Chaplin), who is a barber by profession and is fighting for the Central Powers in the army of the fictional nation of Tomainia (an allusion to ptomaine poisoning), comically blundering through the trenches in a tract of combat scenes. Upon hearing a fatigued pilot pleading for help, the private valiantly attempts to rescue the exhausted officer, one Commander Schultz (Reginald Gardiner), as the two board Schultz's nearby airplane and fly off, escaping enemy fire in the nick of time. Commander Schultz reveals that he is carrying important dispatches that could win Tomania the war. However, the plane quickly loses fuel and crashes. Both Schultz and the unnamed private survive. The private's landing is cushioned by a huge pit of wet mud. As medics arrive, Commander Schultz gives them the dispatches, but is told that the war has just ended and Tomania has lost.
The scene cuts to victory celebrations, newspaper headlines, the evacuation and hospitalization of the private, and to a speech given twenty years later by Adenoid Hynkel (cf. Adolf Hitler, also played by Chaplin in a double role), now the ruthless dictator of Tomainia, who has undertaken an endeavor to persecute Jews throughout the land, aided by Minister of the Interior Garbitsch (compare Joseph Goebbels, played by Henry Daniell) and Minister of War Herring (compare Hermann Göring, played by Billy Gilbert). The symbol of Hynkel's fascist regime is the "double cross" (compare the Nazi swastika) and Hynkel himself speaks a dramatic, macaronic parody of the German language (reminiscent of Hitler's own fiery speeches), "translated" at humorously obvious parts in the speech by an overly concise English-speaking news voice-over.
The Jewish private and barber, who had been hospitalized for the past twenty years, having suffered memory loss from the prior plane crash, is blissfully unaware of Hynkel's rise to power and now, at last, returns to his barbershop in the Jewish ghetto, shocked when storm troopers paint "Jew" on the windows of his shop. In the ensuing slapstick scuffle with the stormtroopers, Hannah, (Paulette Goddard), a beautiful resident of the ghetto, knocks both Stormtroopers on the head with a frying pan. The barber finds a friend and ultimately a love interest in Hannah. At one point, the barber is almost lynched by Stormtroopers, but is saved when Commander Schultz, now a high official in Hynkel's government, intervenes.
Meanwhile, Schultz, who has come up in the ranks in the intervening twenty years, recognizes the barber (who is reminded of WWI by Schultz and therefore gets his memory back) and, though surprised to find him a Jew, Schultz orders the storm troopers to leave him and Hannah alone. Hynkel, in addition, has relaxed his stance on Tomainian Jewry in an attempt to woo a Jewish financier into giving him a loan to support his regime. Egged on by Garbitsch, Hynkel has become obsessed with the idea of world domination. In one famous scene, Hynkel dances with a large, inflatable globe to the tune of the Prelude to Act I of Richard Wagner's Lohengrin) at the end of which it suddenly pops in his hands, like a balloon.
On Garbitsch's advice, Hynkel has planned to invade the neighboring country of Osterlich (likely a corruption of Österreich, the German name for Austria) and needs the loan to finance the invasion. Eventually, the financier refuses, and Hynkel reinstates his persecution of the Jews, this time to an even greater extent. Schultz voices his objection to the pogrom and shows his empathy towards Jews; Hynkel denounces Schultz as a supporter of democracy and a traitor, and orders Schultz placed in a concentration camp. Schultz flees to the ghetto and begins planning to overthrow the Hynkel regime.
Schultz, along with the unnamed barber, Hannah, and other members of the Jewish ghetto, meet to discuss their subversive plot. Schultz says that in order to decide who will carry out this plot (which involves a suicide mission to blow up Hynkel's palace), a coin will be placed in one of five puddings, and the person who receives the one with the coin in it is to carry out the mission. However, Hannah, trying to make a pacifistic statement, has placed a coin in every dessert, leading to one of Chaplin's most comical scenes; finally, they all decide it is best to heed Hannah's advice not to attempt the suicide mission. Eventually, however, both Schultz and his barber friend are captured and condemned to the concentration camp.
Hynkel is initially opposed by Benzino Napaloni (a portmanteau of Benito Mussolini and Napoleon Bonaparte, played by Jack Oakie), dictator of Bacteria, in his plans to invade Osterlich. Hynkel invites Napaloni to talk the situation over in Tomainia, however, and attempts to impress Napaloni with a display of military might and psychological warfare, and thus invites Napolini to a military show. The military show turned out to be a disaster. Hynkel's "light artillery" did not arrive. Hynkel's bombers fall from the sky after initially being mistaken for Napaloni's planes. The tanks do arrive, but they totally fail to impress Napaloni, who claims to have tanks that can fly and go under the water. (Herring blusters that they are concentrating on "flying dreadnoughts".) After some friction and a comedic food fight between the two leaders, a deal is made. Hynkel immediately breaks the deal, and the invasion proceeds successfully. Hannah, who has since emigrated to Osterlich to escape Hynkel, once again finds herself living under Hynkel's regime.
Schultz and the barber escape from the camp wearing Tomainian uniforms. Border guards mistake the barber for Hynkel, to whom he is nearly identical in appearance. Conversely, Hynkel, on a duck-hunting trip so that people will not expect an invasion, falls overboard and is mistaken for the barber and is arrested by his own soldiers.
The barber, who has assumed Hynkel's identity, is taken to the Tomainian capital to make a victory speech. Garbitsch, in introducing "Hynkel" to the throngs, decries free speech and other supposedly traitorous and outdated ideas. In contrast, the barber then makes a rousing speech, reversing Hynkel's anti-Semitic policies and declaring that Tomainia and Osterlich will now be a free nation and a democracy.
Hannah, who was previously mistreated by Tomanian police agents looking for the barber, hears the barber's speech on the radio, and is amazed when "Hynkel" addresses her directly: "Hannah, can you hear me? Wherever you are, look up, Hannah. The clouds are lifting. The sun is breaking through. We are coming out of the darkness into the light. We are coming into a new world, a kindlier world, where men will rise above their hate, their greed and brutality. Look up, Hannah. The soul of man has been given wings, and at last he is beginning to fly. He is flying into the rainbow—into the light of hope, into the future, the glorious future that belongs to you, to me, and to all of us. Look up, Hannah. Look up" . Hannah looks up with an optimistic smile.
The film stars Chaplin as Hynkel and the barber, Paulette Goddard as Hannah, Jack Oakie as Napaloni, Reginald Gardiner as Schultz, Henry Daniell as Garbitsch and Billy Gilbert as Field Marshal Herring, an incompetent adviser to Hynkel. Chaplin stars in a double role as the Jewish barber and the fascist dictator (or "Phooey", parodying "Führer") clearly modeled on Adolf Hitler.
The names of the aides of Adenoid Hynkel are parodies of those of Hitler's. Garbitsch (pronounced "garbage"), the right hand man of Hynkel, is a parody of Joseph Goebbels, and Field Marshal Herring was modeled after the Luftwaffe chief, Hermann Göring. The "Dig-a-ditchy" of Bacteria, Benzino Napaloni, was modeled after Italy's Il Duce, Benito Mussolini. Benzino is played with arrogant buffoonery by Jack Oakie.
Much of the film is taken up by Hynkel and Napaloni arguing over the fate of Osterlich (Austria). Originally, Mussolini was opposed to the German takeover since he saw Austria as a buffer-state between Germany and Italy. The international community (in particular, France and Britain, Mussolini's Stresa front partners) did not share Italy's concern over German annexation of Austria and supported League of Nations sanctions against Italy, after Italy invaded Ethiopia. In 1936, Mussolini submitted to Hitler's will, withdrew Italian troops from the Brenner Pass along the Austrian border, and moved closer to Germany, as Hitler did not apply sanctions against Italy. This conflict is almost forgotten today given Italy's alliance with the German Third Reich during World War II.
The film contains several of Chaplin's most famous sequences. The rally speech by Hynkel, delivered in German-sounding gibberish, is a caricature of Hitler's oratory style, which Chaplin studied carefully in newsreels. The German words schnitzel, sauerkraut and liverwurst can be made out, as well as "Katzenjammer Kids" and English phrases such as "cheese'n'crackers" and frequently "lager beer", in the fake German Hynkel speaks during the rally and at other points in the film when he is angry (though he normally speaks English). Billy Gilbert as Herring is also required to improvise this fake German at times, and at one point (where he is apologizing for having accidentally knocked Hynkel down the stairs) he comes up with the word "banana". Chaplin is clearly taken by surprise and repeats, "Der banana?" before incorporating the word into his own reply. Chaplin, as Hynkel, has a tendency to remove Herring's medals when he gets angry. In the scene where Hynkel receives news that Napaloni mobilized his troops along the Osterlich border, Hynkel not only removed all of Herring's medals, but removed all of his buttons on his shirt, revealing a striped shirt with suspenders and then slaps Herring.
Chaplin, as the barber, shaves a customer in tune with a radio broadcast of Johannes Brahms's Hungarian Dance No. 5, recorded in one continuous shot. The film's most celebrated sequence is the ballet dance between Hynkel and a balloon globe in his palatial office, set to Richard Wagner's Lohengrin Overture, which is also used at the end of the film when the Jewish barber is making the victory speech in Hynkel's place. The globe dance had its origins in the late 1920s, when Chaplin was filmed at a Hollywood party doing an early version of the dance, with a globe and a Prussian military helmet (this footage appears in the documentary Unknown Chaplin).
The film ends with the barber, having been mistaken for the dictator, delivering an address in front of a large audience and over the radio to the nation, following the Tomainian take-over of Osterlich (a reference to the German Anschluss of Austria on March 12, 1938). The address is widely interpreted as an out-of-character personal plea from Chaplin.
The Third Reich's official taste in art and architecture is frequently parodied. The distance between the front door and Hynkel's desk is ridiculously long, and while a painter and a sculptor try to create his official image, the dictator never stays posed for more than a few seconds at a time. In the main thoroughfare of the capital the Venus de Milo has been "repaired" to give a fascist salute, and Rodin's The Thinker still sits, but now also has his arm raised.
Some of the signs in the shop windows of the ghettoized Jewish population in the film are written in Esperanto, a language which Hitler condemned as a Jewish plot to internationalize and destroy German culture.
Garbitsch, who constantly counsels and advises Hynkel, seems to be the one guiding him. This is an allusion to the rumors that Goebbels was the actual ruler and Hitler only a puppet-leader.
The film was directed by Chaplin and his half-brother Wheeler Dryden, and written and produced by Chaplin. The film was shot largely at the Chaplin Studios and other locations around Los Angeles. The elaborate World War I scenes were filmed in Laurel Canyon. Chaplin and Meredith Wilson composed the music. Filming began in September 1939 and finished six months later. Chaplin was motivated by the escalating violence and repression of Jews by the Nazis throughout the late 1930s, the magnitude of which was conveyed to him personally by his European Jewish friends and fellow artists. The Third Reich's repressive nature and militarist tendencies were also well-known at the time. However, Chaplin later stated that he would not have made the film if he had known of the true extent of the Nazis' crimes.
Several similarities between Hitler and Chaplin have been noted and may have been a pivotal factor in Chaplin's decision to make The Great Dictator. Chaplin and Hitler had superficially similar looks, most famously their toothbrush moustaches, and this similarity is often commented upon. (Tommy Handley wrote a song named "Who is This Man Who Looks like Charlie Chaplin?") Furthermore, the two men were born only four days apart in April 1889, and both grew up in relative poverty.
As Hitler and his Nazi Party rose to prominence, Chaplin's popularity throughout the world became greater than ever; he was mobbed by fans on a 1931 trip to Berlin, which annoyed the Nazis, who published a book in 1934 titled The Jews Are Looking at You, in which the comedian was described as "a disgusting Jewish acrobat." Ivor Montagu, a close friend of Chaplin, relates that he sent Chaplin a copy of the book and always believed this was the genesis of "Dictator."
Chaplin prepared the story throughout 1938 and 1939, and began filming in September 1939, one week after the beginning of World War II. He finished filming almost six months later. The 2001 BBC documentary on the making of the film, The Tramp and the Dictator, presented newly discovered footage of the film production (shot by Chaplin's elder half-brother Sydney) which showed Chaplin's initial attempts at the film's ending, filmed before the fall of France.
The making of the film coincided with rising tensions throughout the world. Speculation grew that this and other anti-fascist films such as The Mortal Storm and Four Sons would remain unreleased, given the United States' neutral relationship with Germany. The project continued largely because Chaplin was financially and artistically independent of other studios; also, failure to release the film would have bankrupted Chaplin, who had invested $1.5 million of his own money in the project. The film eventually opened in New York City in September 1940, to a wider American audience in October, and the United Kingdom in December. The film was released in France in April 1945.
When interviewed about this film being on such a touchy subject, Charlie Chaplin had only this to say: "Half-way through making The Great Dictator I began receiving alarming messages from United Artists ... but I was determined to go ahead, for Hitler must be laughed at." The documentary The Tramp and The Dictator provides audio of a 1983 interview with Chaplin associate Dan James, in which he reports that President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent his adviser Harry Hopkins to personally meet with Chaplin and encourage him to move ahead with the film.
According to The Tramp and the Dictator, the film was not only sent to Hitler, but an eyewitness confirmed he saw it. According to the Internet Movie Database, Chaplin, after being told Hitler saw the movie, replied: "I'd give anything to know what he thought of it." Hitler's response is not recorded but he is said to have viewed the film twice.
The film was well received at the time of its release, and was popular with the American public. The film was also popular in the United Kingdom, drawing 9 million to the theatres. Jewish audiences were deeply moved by the portrayal of Jewish characters and their plight, which was still a taboo subject in Hollywood films of the time; (over half the US population was antisemitic to some degree). Chaplin admitted in his autobiography that he could not have made the film if he had been aware of the true extent of the Nazis' crimes.
When the film was in production, the British government announced that it would prohibit its exhibition in the United Kingdom in keeping with its appeasement policy concerning Nazi Germany. However, by the time the film was released, the UK was at war with Germany and the film was now welcomed in part for its obvious propaganda value. In 1941, London's Prince of Wales Theatre screened its UK premiere. The film had been banned in many parts of Europe, and the theatre's owner, Alfred Esdaile, was apparently fined for showing it. It eventually became Chaplin's highest grossing film.
In his 1964 autobiography, Chaplin stated that he would not have been able to make such jokes about the Nazi regime had the extent of the Nazi horrors been known, particularly the death camps and the Holocaust. While Ernst Lubitsch's 1942 To Be or Not To Be dealt with similar themes (even including another mistaken-identity Hitler figure), after the scope of Nazi atrocities became apparent it took over twenty years before any other films dared to satirize the era. Mel Brooks' The Producers (1968) mocked Nazis (though not their actions; also Brooks would later remake To Be or Not To Be) and the television series Hogan's Heroes represented later comedic takes on the era.
The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Academy Award for Best Picture, Academy Award for Best Actor (Chaplin), Best Supporting Actor (Oakie), Academy Award for Best Original Score (Meredith Willson) and an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay (Chaplin).
The film was Chaplin's first true talking picture and helped shake off accusations of Luddism following his previous release, the mostly dialogue-free Modern Times, released in 1936 when the silent era had all but ended in the late 1920s. The Great Dictator does, however, feature several silent scenes more in-keeping with Chaplin's previous films.
American Film Institute recognition
According to Willson, the scene in which Chaplin shaves a customer to Brahms' Hungarian Dance No. 5 had been filmed before he arrived, using a phonograph record for timing. Willson was to re-record it with the full studio orchestra, fitting the music to the action. They had planned to do it painstakingly, recording eight measures or less at a time, after running through the whole scene to get the overall idea. Chaplin decided to record the runthrough in case anything was usable, and 'by dumb luck we had managed to catch every movement, and that was the first and only 'take' made of the scene, the one used in the finished picture' .
The film was the subject of a plagiarism lawsuit (Bercovici v. Chaplin) in 1947 against Chaplin. The case was settled, with Chaplin paying Konrad Bercovici $95,000. In his autobiography, Chaplin insisted that he had been the sole writer of the movie's script. He came to a settlement, though, because of his "unpopularity in the States at that moment and being under such court pressure, [he] was terrified, not knowing what to expect next."
|The neutrality of this article is disputed. Please see the discussion on the talk page. Please do not remove this message until the dispute is resolved. (August 2010)|
Charles Spencer Chaplin|
16 April 1889
Walworth, London, England
25 December 1977 (aged 88)|
|Occupation||Actor, film director, film producer, screenwriter, composer, mime|
Mildred Harris (1918–1921) |
Lita Grey (1924–1927)
Paulette Goddard (1936–1942)
Oona O'Neill (1943–1977)
Charles Spencer Chaplin was born on 16 April 1889, in East Street, Walworth, London, England. His parents were both entertainers in the music hall tradition; his father, Charles Spencer Chaplin Sr, was a vocalist and an actor and his mother, Hannah Chaplin, a singer and an actress who went by the stage name Lilly Harley. They separated before Charlie was three. He learned singing from his parents. The 1891 census shows that his mother lived with Charlie and his older half-brother Sydney on Barlow Street, Walworth.
As a small child, Chaplin also lived with his mother in various addresses in and around Kennington Road in Lambeth, including 3 Pownall Terrace, Chester Street and 39 Methley Street. His paternal grandmother's mother was from the Smith family of Romanichals, a fact of which he was extremely proud, though he described it in his autobiography as "the skeleton in our family cupboard". Chaplin's father, Charles Chaplin Sr., was an alcoholic and had little contact with his son, though Chaplin and his half-brother briefly lived with their father and his mistress, Louise, at 287 Kennington Road. The half-brothers lived there while their mentally ill mother lived at Cane Hill Asylum at Coulsdon. Chaplin's father's mistress sent the boy to Archbishop Temples Boys School. His father died of cirrhosis of the liver when Charlie was twelve in 1901. As of the 1901 Census, Chaplin resided at 94 Ferndale Road, Lambeth, as part of a troupe of young male dancers, The Eight Lancashire Lads, managed by a William Jackson.
A larynx condition ended the singing career of Chaplin's mother. After Chaplin's mother was again admitted to the Cane Hill Asylum, her son was left in the workhouse at Lambeth in south London, moving after several weeks to the Central London District School for paupers in Hanwell.
Chaplin first toured the United States with the Fred Karno troupe from 1910 to 1912. After five months back in England, he returned to the U.S. for a second tour, arriving with the Karno Troupe on 2 October 1912. In the Karno Company was Arthur Stanley Jefferson, who later became known as Stan Laurel. Chaplin and Laurel shared a room in a boarding house. Stan Laurel returned to England but Chaplin remained in the United States. In late 1913, Chaplin's act with the Karno Troupe was seen by Mack Sennett, Mabel Normand, Minta Durfee, and Fatty Arbuckle. Sennett hired him for his studio, the Keystone Film Company as a replacement for Ford Sterling. Chaplin had considerable initial difficulty adjusting to the demands of film acting and his performance suffered for it. After Chaplin's first film appearance, Making a Living was filmed, Sennett felt he had made a costly mistake. Most historians agree it was Normand who persuaded him to give Chaplin another chance.
Mack Sennett did not warm to Chaplin right away, and Chaplin believed Sennett intended to fire him following a disagreement with Normand. However, Chaplin's pictures were soon a success, and he became one of the biggest stars at Keystone.
Chaplin was given over to Normand, who directed and wrote a handful of his earliest films. Chaplin did not enjoy being directed by a woman, and they often disagreed. Eventually, the two worked out their differences and remained friends long after Chaplin left Keystone.
(1914)]] The Tramp debuted during the silent film era in the Keystone comedy Kid Auto Races at Venice (released on 7 February 1914). Chaplin, with his Little Tramp character, quickly became the most popular star in Keystone director Mack Sennett's company of players. Chaplin continued to play the Tramp through dozens of short films and, later, feature-length productions (in only a handful of other productions did he play characters other than the Tramp). He portrayed a Keystone Kop in A Thief Catcher filmed Jan. 5–26, 1914.
The Tramp was closely identified with the silent era, and was considered an international character; when the sound era began in the late 1920s, Chaplin refused to make a talkie featuring the character. The 1931 production City Lights featured no dialogue. Chaplin officially retired the character in the film Modern Times (released 5 February 1936), which appropriately ended with the Tramp walking down an endless highway toward the horizon. The film was only a partial talkie and is often called the last silent film. The Tramp remains silent until near the end of the film when, for the first time, his voice is finally heard, albeit only as part of a French/Italian-derived gibberish song.
Two films Chaplin made in 1915, The Tramp and The Bank, created the characteristics of his screen persona. While in the end the Tramp manages to shake off his disappointment and resume his carefree ways, “the pathos lies in The Tramp's hope for a more permanent transformation through love, and his failure to achieve this.”
(1914): Chaplin's second film and the debut of his "tramp" costume]] Chaplin's earliest films were made for Mack Sennett's Keystone Studios, where he developed his tramp character and very quickly learned the art and craft of film making. The public first saw the tramp when Chaplin, at age 24, appeared in his second film to be released (7 February 1914), Kid Auto Races at Venice.
However, he had devised the tramp costume for a film produced a few days earlier but released later (9 February 1914), Mabel's Strange Predicament. Mack Sennett had requested that Chaplin "get into a comedy make-up". As Chaplin recalled in his autobiography:
I had no idea what makeup to put on. I did not like my get-up as the press reporter [in Making a Living]. However on the way to the wardrobe I thought I would dress in baggy pants, big shoes, a cane and a derby hat. I wanted everything to be a contradiction: the pants baggy, the coat tight, the hat small and the shoes large. I was undecided whether to look old or young, but remembering Sennett had expected me to be a much older man, I added a small moustache, which I reasoned, would add age without hiding my expression. I had no idea of the character. But the moment I was dressed, the clothes and the makeup made me feel the person he was. I began to know him, and by the time I walked on stage he was fully born.
"The Tramp" is a vagrant with the refined manners, clothes, and dignity of a gentleman. "Fatty" Arbuckle contributed his father-in-law's derby and his own pants (of generous proportions). Chester Conklin provided the little cutaway tailcoat, and Ford Sterling the size-14 shoes, which were so big, Chaplin had to wear each on the wrong foot to keep them on. He devised the moustache from a bit of crepe hair belonging to Mack Swain. The only thing Chaplin himself owned was the whangee cane. Chaplin's tramp character would immediately gain enormous popularity among cinema audiences. "The Tramp", Chaplin's principal character, was known as "Charlot" in the French-speaking world, Italy, Spain, Andorra, Portugal, Greece, Romania and Turkey, "Carlitos" in Brazil and Argentina, and "Der Vagabund" in Germany.
[[File:|thumb|upright|Chaplin in character in the 1910s]]
Chaplin's early Keystones use the standard Mack Sennett formula of extreme physical comedy and exaggerated gestures. Chaplin's pantomime was subtler, more suitable to romantic and domestic farces than to the usual Keystone chases and mob scenes. The visual gags were pure Keystone, however; the tramp character would aggressively assault his enemies with kicks and bricks. Moviegoers loved this cheerfully earthy new comedian, even though critics warned that his antics bordered on vulgarity. Chaplin was soon entrusted with directing and editing his own films. He made 34 shorts for Sennett during his first year in pictures, as well as the landmark comedy feature Tillie's Punctured Romance.
The Tramp character was featured in the first movie trailer to be exhibited in a U.S. movie theater, a slide promotion developed by Nils Granlund, advertising manager for the Marcus Loew theater chain, and shown at the Loew's Seventh Avenue Theatre in Harlem in 1914. In 1915, Chaplin signed a much more favorable contract with Essanay Studios, and further developed his cinematic skills, adding new levels of depth and pathos to the Keystone-style slapstick. Most of the Essanay films were more ambitious, running twice as long as the average Keystone comedy. Chaplin also developed his own stock company, including ingénue Edna Purviance and comic villains Leo White and Bud Jamison.
As new immigrant groups arrived in waves to America silent movies were able to cross all the barriers of language, and spoke to every level of the American Tower of Babel, precisely because they were silent. Chaplin was emerging as the supreme exponent of silent movies, an emigrant himself from London. Chaplin's Tramp enacted the difficulties and humiliations of the immigrant underdog, the constant struggle at the bottom of the American heap and yet he triumphed over adversity without ever rising to the top, and thereby stayed in touch with his audience. Chaplin's films were also deliciously subversive. The bumbling officials enabled the immigrants to laugh at those they feared.
In 1916, the Mutual Film Corporation paid Chaplin US$670,000 to produce a dozen two-reel comedies. He was given near complete artistic control, and produced twelve films over an eighteen-month period that rank among the most influential comedy films in all cinema. Practically every Mutual comedy is a classic: Easy Street, One AM, The Pawnshop, and The Adventurer are perhaps the best known. Edna Purviance remained the leading lady, and Chaplin added Eric Campbell, Henry Bergman, and Albert Austin to his stock company; Campbell, a Gilbert and Sullivan veteran, provided superb villainy, and second bananas Bergman and Austin would remain with Chaplin for decades. Chaplin regarded the Mutual period as the happiest of his career, although he also had concerns that the films during that time were becoming formulaic owing to the stringent production schedule his contract required. Upon the U.S. entering the First World War, Chaplin became a spokesman for Liberty Bonds with his close friend Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford.
Most of the Chaplin films in circulation date from his Keystone, Essanay, and Mutual periods. After Chaplin assumed control of his productions in 1918 (and kept exhibitors and audiences waiting for them), entrepreneurs serviced the demand for Chaplin by bringing back his older comedies. The films were recut, retitled, and reissued again and again, first for theatres, then for the home-movie market, and in recent years, for home video. Even Essanay was guilty of this practice, fashioning "new" Chaplin comedies from old film clips and out-takes. The twelve Mutual comedies were revamped as sound movies in 1933, when producer Amadee J. Van Beuren added new orchestral scores and sound effects.
At the conclusion of the Mutual contract in 1917, Chaplin signed a contract with First National to produce eight two-reel films. First National financed and distributed these pictures (1918–23) but otherwise gave him complete creative control over production. Chaplin now had his own studio, and he could work at a more relaxed pace that allowed him to focus on quality. Although First National expected Chaplin to deliver short comedies like the celebrated Mutuals, Chaplin ambitiously expanded most of his personal projects into longer, feature-length films, including Shoulder Arms (1918), The Pilgrim (1923) and the feature-length classic The Kid (1921).
In 1919, Chaplin co-founded the United Artists film distribution company with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D. W. Griffith, all of whom were seeking to escape the growing power consolidation of film distributors and financiers in the developing Hollywood studio system. This move, along with complete control of his film production through his studio, assured Chaplin's independence as a film-maker. He served on the board of UA until the early 1950s.
All Chaplin's United Artists pictures were of feature length, beginning with the atypical drama in which Chaplin had only a brief cameo role, A Woman of Paris (1923). This was followed by the classic comedies The Gold Rush (1925) and The Circus (1928).
After the arrival of sound films, Chaplin continued to focus on silent films; The Circus (1928), City Lights (1931), and Modern Times (1936) were essentially silent films scored with his own music and sound effects. City Lights has been praised for its mixture of comedy and sentimentality. Critic James Agee, for example, wrote in Life magazine in 1949 that the final scene in City Lights was the "greatest single piece of acting ever committed to celluloid".
in The Kid (1921)]]
While Modern Times (1936) is a non-talkie, it does contain talk—usually coming from inanimate objects such as a radio or a TV monitor. This was done to help 1930s audiences, who were out of the habit of watching silent films, adjust to not hearing dialogue. Modern Times was the first film where Chaplin's voice is heard (in the nonsense song at the end, which Chaplin both performed and wrote the nonsense lyrics to). However, for most viewers it is still considered a silent film.
Although "talkies" became the dominant mode of movie making soon after they were introduced in 1927, Chaplin resisted making such a film all through the 1930s. He considered cinema essentially a pantomimic art. He said: "Action is more generally understood than words. Like Chinese symbolism, it will mean different things according to its scenic connotation. Listen to a description of some unfamiliar object—an African warthog, for example; then look at a picture of the animal and see how surprised you are".
It is a tribute to Chaplin's versatility that he also has one film credit for choreography for the 1952 film Limelight, and another as a singer for the title music of The Circus (1928). The best known of several songs he composed are "Smile", composed for the film Modern Times (1936) and given lyrics to help promote a 1950s revival of the film, famously covered by Nat King Cole. "This Is My Song" from Chaplin's last film, A Countess from Hong Kong, was a number one hit in several different languages in the late 1960s (most notably the version by Petula Clark and discovery of an unreleased version in the 1990s recorded in 1967 by Judith Durham of The Seekers), and Chaplin's theme from Limelight was a hit in the 1950s under the title "Eternally." Chaplin's score to Limelight won an Academy Award in 1972; a delay in the film premiering in Los Angeles made it eligible decades after it was filmed. Chaplin also wrote scores for his earlier silent films when they were re-released in the sound era, notably The Kid for its 1971 re-release.
Chaplin's first talking picture, The Great Dictator (1940), was an act of defiance against Nazism, filmed and released in the United States one year before the U.S. abandoned its policy of neutrality to enter the Second World War. Chaplin played the role of "Adenoid Hynkel", Dictator of Tomania, modeled on German dictator Adolf Hitler. The film also showcased comedian Jack Oakie as "Benzino Napaloni", dictator of Bacteria, a jab at Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.
Paulette Goddard filmed with Chaplin again, depicting a woman in the ghetto. The film was seen as an act of courage in the political environment of the time, both for its ridicule of Nazism and for the portrayal of overt Jewish characters and the depiction of their persecution. In addition to Hynkel, Chaplin also played a look-alike Jewish barber persecuted by his regime, who physically resembled the Tramp character.
At the conclusion, the two characters Chaplin portrayed swapped positions through a complex plot, and he dropped out of his comic character to address the audience directly in a speech.
In the speech, Chaplain says ""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 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's room for everyone and the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone." 
Although Chaplin had his major successes in the United States and was a resident from 1914 to 1953, he always maintained a neutral nationalistic stance. During the era of McCarthyism, Chaplin was accused of "un-American activities" as a suspected communist and J. Edgar Hoover, who had instructed the FBI to keep extensive secret files on him, tried to end his United States residency. FBI pressure on Chaplin grew after his 1942 campaign for a second European front in the war and reached a critical level in the late 1940s, when Congressional figures threatened to call him as a witness in hearings. This was never done, probably from fear of Chaplin's ability to lampoon the investigators.
In 1952, Chaplin left the US for what was intended as a brief trip home to the United Kingdom for the London premiere of Limelight. Hoover learned of the trip and negotiated with the Immigration and Naturalization Service to revoke Chaplin's re-entry permit, exiling Chaplin so he could not return for his alleged political leanings. Chaplin decided not to re-enter the United States, writing: "Since the end of the last world war, I have been the object of lies and propaganda by powerful reactionary groups who, by their influence and by the aid of America's yellow press, have created an unhealthy atmosphere in which liberal-minded individuals can be singled out and persecuted. Under these conditions I find it virtually impossible to continue my motion-picture work, and I have therefore given up my residence in the United States."
Chaplin then made his home in Vevey, Switzerland. He briefly and triumphantly returned to the United States in April 1972, with his wife, to receive an Honorary Oscar, and also to discuss how his films would be re-released and marketed.
Chaplin's final two films were made in London: A King in New York (1957) in which he starred, wrote, directed and produced; and A Countess from Hong Kong (1967), which he directed, produced, and wrote. The latter film stars Sophia Loren and Marlon Brando, and Chaplin made his final on-screen appearance in a brief cameo role as a seasick steward. He also composed the music for both films with the theme song from A Countess From Hong Kong, "This is My Song", reaching number one in the UK as sung by Petula Clark. Chaplin also compiled a film The Chaplin Revue from three First National films A Dog's Life (1918), Shoulder Arms (1918) and The Pilgrim (1923) for which he composed the music and recorded an introductory narration. As well as directing these final films, Chaplin also wrote My Autobiography, between 1959 and 1963, which was published in 1964.
In his pictorial autobiography My Life In Pictures, published in 1974, Chaplin indicated that he had written a screenplay for his daughter, Victoria; entitled The Freak, the film would have cast her as an angel. According to Chaplin, a script was completed and pre-production rehearsals had begun on the film (the book includes a photograph of Victoria in costume), but were halted when Victoria married. "I mean to make it some day," Chaplin wrote. However, his health declined steadily in the 1970s which hampered all hopes of the film ever being produced.
From 1969 until 1976, Chaplin wrote original music compositions and scores for his silent pictures and re-released them. He composed the scores of all his First National shorts: The Idle Class in 1971 (paired with The Kid for re-release in 1972), A Day's Pleasure in 1973, Pay Day in 1972, Sunnyside in 1974, and of his feature length films firstly The Circus in 1969 and The Kid in 1971. Chaplin worked with music associate Eric James whilst composing all his scores.
Chaplin's last completed work was the score for his 1923 film A Woman of Paris, which was completed in 1976, by which time Chaplin was extremely frail, even finding communication difficult.
Chaplin's robust health began to slowly fail in the late 1960s, after the completion of his final film A Countess from Hong Kong, and more rapidly after he received his Academy Award in 1972. By 1977, he had difficulty communicating, and was using a wheelchair. Chaplin died in his sleep in Vevey, Switzerland on Christmas Day 1977.
Chaplin was interred in Corsier-Sur-Vevey Cemetery, Vaud, Switzerland. On 1 March 1978, his corpse was stolen by a small group of Swiss mechanics in an attempt to extort money from his family. The plot failed; the robbers were captured, and the corpse was recovered eleven weeks later near Lake Geneva. His body was reburied under 6 feet (1.8 m) of concrete to prevent further attempts.
Chaplin never spoke more than cursorily about his filmmaking methods, claiming such a thing would be tantamount to a magician spoiling his own illusion. In fact, until he began making spoken dialogue films with The Great Dictator in 1940, Chaplin never shot from a completed script. The method he developed, once his Essanay contract gave him the freedom to write for and direct himself, was to start from a vague premise—for example "Charlie enters a health spa" or "Charlie works in a pawn shop." Chaplin then had sets constructed and worked with his stock company to improvise gags and "business" around them, almost always working the ideas out on film. As ideas were accepted and discarded, a narrative structure would emerge, frequently requiring Chaplin to reshoot an already-completed scene that might have otherwise contradicted the story. Chaplin's unique filmmaking techniques became known only after his death, when his rare surviving outtakes and cut sequences were carefully examined in the 1983 British documentary Unknown Chaplin.
This is one reason why Chaplin took so much longer to complete his films than those of his rivals. In addition, Chaplin was an incredibly exacting director, showing his actors exactly how he wanted them to perform and shooting scores of takes until he had the shot he wanted. (Animator Chuck Jones, who lived near Charlie Chaplin's Lone Star studio as a boy, remembered his father saying he watched Chaplin shoot a scene more than a hundred times until he was satisfied with it. This combination of story improvisation and relentless perfectionism—which resulted in days of effort and thousands of feet of film being wasted, all at enormous expense—often proved very taxing for Chaplin, who in frustration would often lash out at his actors and crew, keep them waiting idly for hours or, in extreme cases, shutting down production altogether.
The three had different styles: Chaplin had a strong affinity for sentimentality and pathos (which was popular in the 1920s), Lloyd was renowned for his everyman persona and 1920s optimism, and Keaton adhered to onscreen stoicism with a cynical tone more suited to modern audiences.
Commercially, Chaplin made some of the highest-grossing films in the silent era; The Gold Rush is the fifth with US$4.25 million and The Circus is the seventh with US$3.8 million. However, Chaplin's films combined made about US$10.5 million while Harold Lloyd's grossed US$15.7 million. Lloyd was far more prolific, releasing twelve feature films in the 1920s while Chaplin released just three. Buster Keaton's films were not nearly as commercially successful as Chaplin's or Lloyd's even at the height of his popularity, and only received belated critical acclaim in the late 1950s and 1960s.
There is evidence that Chaplin and Keaton, who both got their start in vaudeville, thought highly of one another: Keaton stated in his autobiography that Chaplin was the greatest comedian that ever lived, and the greatest comedy director, whereas Chaplin welcomed Keaton to United Artists in 1925, advised him against his disastrous move to MGM in 1928, and for his last American film, Limelight, wrote a part specifically for Keaton as his first on-screen comedy partner since 1915.
Chaplin wrote or co-wrote the scores and songs for many of his films. Smile, which he composed for his film Modern Times, hit number 2 on the UK charts when sung by Nat King Cole in the 1950s. It was also Michael Jackson's favorite song. This Is My Song, written and composed by Chaplin for his film A Countess from Hong Kong, hit number 1 on the UK charts when sung by Petula Clark in the 1960s. In 1973, Chaplin won the Oscar for Best Film Score for his film Limelight. Chaplin was not the only member of his family with musical talent; his nephew, Spencer Dryden was the drummer for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted band, Jefferson Airplane.
in Hollywood 1919]]
Chaplin's political sympathies always lay with the left. His silent films made prior to the Great Depression typically did not contain overt political themes or messages, apart from the Tramp's plight in poverty and his run-ins with the law, but his 1930s films were more openly political. Modern Times depicts workers and poor people in dismal conditions. The final dramatic speech in The Great Dictator, which was critical of following patriotic nationalism without question, and his vocal public support for the opening of a second European front in 1942 to assist the Soviet Union in the Second World War were controversial.
Chaplin declined to support the war effort as he had done for the First World War which led to public anger, although his two sons saw service in the Army in Europe. For most of the Second World War he was fighting serious criminal and civil charges related to his involvement with actress Joan Barry (see below). After the war, his 1947 black comedy, Monsieur Verdoux showed a critical view of capitalism. Chaplin's final American film, Limelight, was less political and more autobiographical in nature. His following European-made film, A King in New York (1957), satirised the political persecution and paranoia that had forced him to leave the U.S. five years earlier.
During the First World War, Chaplin was criticised in the British press for not joining the Army. He had in fact presented himself for service, but was denied for being too small at 5'5" and underweight. Chaplin raised substantial funds for the war effort during war bond drives not only with public speaking at rallies but also by making, at his own expense, The Bond, a comedic propaganda film used in 1918. The lingering controversy may have prevented Chaplin from receiving a knighthood in the 1930s. A 1916 propaganda short film Zepped with Chaplin was discovered in 2009.
For Chaplin's entire career, some level of controversy existed over claims of Jewish ancestry. Nazi propaganda in the 1930s and 40s prominently portrayed him as Jewish (named Karl Tonstein) relying on articles published in the U.S. press before,[dead link] and FBI investigations of Chaplin in the late 1940s also focused on Chaplin's ethnic origins. There is no documentary evidence of Jewish ancestry for Chaplin himself. For his entire public life, he fiercely refused to challenge or refute claims that he was Jewish, saying that to do so would always "play directly into the hands of anti-Semites." Although baptised in the Church of England, Chaplin was thought to be an agnostic for most of his life.
Chaplin's lifelong attraction to younger women remains another enduring source of interest to some. His biographers have attributed this to a teenage infatuation with Hetty Kelly, whom he met in Britain while performing in the music hall, and which possibly defined his feminine ideal. Chaplin clearly relished the role of discovering and closely guiding young female stars; with the exception of Mildred Harris, all of his marriages and most of his major relationships began in this manner.
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Chaplin's mother died in 1928 in Glendale, California, seven years after having been brought to the U.S. by her sons. Unknown to Charlie and Sydney until years later, they had a half-brother through their mother. The boy, Wheeler Dryden (1892–1957), was raised abroad by his father but later connected with the rest of the family and went to work for Chaplin at his Hollywood studio.
|Child||Birth||Death|| Chaplin's Age |
at Time of Birth
|Norman Spencer Chaplin||7 July 1919||10 July 1919|| ||Mildred Harris|
|Charles Spencer Chaplin, Jr.||5 May 1925||20 March 1968|| ||Lita Grey||Susan Maree Chaplin (b 1959)|
|Sydney Earle Chaplin||31 March 1926||3 March 2009|| ||Stephan Chaplin (b 19xx)|
|Geraldine Leigh Chaplin||31 July 1944|| ||Oona O'Neill|| Shane Saura Chaplin (b 1974) |
Oona Castilla Chaplin (b 1986)
|Michael John Chaplin||7 March 1946|| || Kathleen Chaplin (b. 1975) |
Dolores Chaplin (b. 1979)
Carmen Chaplin (b 19xx)
George Chaplin (b 19xx)
|Josephine Hannah Chaplin||28 March 1949|| ||Julien Ronet (b. 1980)|
|Victoria Chaplin||19 May 1951|| || Aurélia Thiérrée (b. 1971) |
James Thiérrée (b. 1974)
|Eugene Anthony Chaplin||23 August 1953|| ||Kiera Chaplin (b. 1982)|
|Jane Cecil Chaplin||23 May 1957|| |
|Annette Emily Chaplin||3 December 1959|| ||Orson Salkind (b. 1986) |
Osceola Salkind (b. 1994)
|Christopher James Chaplin||6 July 1962|| |
Chaplin was knighted in 1975 at the age of 85 as a Knight Commander of the British Empire (KBE) by Queen Elizabeth II. The honour had been first proposed in 1931. Knighthood was suggested again in 1956, but was vetoed after a Foreign Office report raised concerns over Chaplin's communist views and his moral behaviour in marrying two 16 year girls; it was felt that honouring him would damage both the reputation of the British honours system and relations with the United States.
Among other recognitions, Chaplin was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1970; that he had not been among those originally honoured in 1961 caused some controversy. Chaplin's Swiss mansion is to be opened as a museum tracing his life from the music halls in London to Hollywood fame.
Chaplin received three Academy Awards in his lifetime: one for Best Original Score, and two Honorary Awards. However, during his active years as a filmmaker, Chaplin expressed disdain for the Academy Awards; his son Charles Jr wrote that Chaplin invoked the ire of the Academy in the 1930s by jokingly using his 1929 Oscar as a doorstop. This may help explain why City Lights and Modern Times, considered by several polls to be two of the greatest of all motion pictures, were not nominated for a single Academy Award.
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]] Chaplin's "tramp" character is possibly the most imitated on all levels of entertainment. It is said[who?] that Chaplin once entered a "Chaplin look-alike" competition and came in third.
Chaplin wrote, directed, and starred in dozens of feature films and short subjects. Highlights include The Immigrant (1917), The Gold Rush (1925), City Lights (1931), Modern Times (1936), and The Great Dictator (1940), all of which have been selected for inclusion in the National Film Registry. Three of these films made the AFI's 100 Years…100 Movies and AFI's 100 Years…100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) lists: The Gold Rush", City Lights, and Modern Times.
A listing of the dozens of Chaplin films and alternate versions can be found in the Ted Okuda-David Maska book Charlie Chaplin at Keystone and Essanay: Dawn of the Tramp. Efforts to produce definitive versions of Chaplin's pre-1918 short films have been underway in recent years; all twelve Mutual films were restored in 1975 by archivist David Shepard and Blackhawk Films, and new restorations with even more footage were released on DVD in 2006.
Today, nearly all of Chaplin's output is controlled by his estate via dummy company/outlet Roy Export Company Establishment, which enforces the library's copyrights and decides how and when this material can be released. French company MK2 acts as worldwide distribution agent for the Export company. In the U.S. as of 2010, distribution is handled under license by Janus Films, with home video releases from Criterion Collection, affiliated with Janus.
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