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Recently, Youtuber Shwiggan released a Source Filmmaker animation based on Charlie’s Speech, which caused all of his viewers to look up the original video (which now has over 4 million views). His speech is surprisingly relevant to the world today.
(Reception on The Great Dictator)
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 cinemas.
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.
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. To add to that, some audiences had come to expect Chaplin to make silent films even during the sound era.
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 nearly twenty years before any other films dared to satirize the era.
In 1997, The Great Dictator was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”.
In 2000, the American Film Institute ranked the film #37 in its “100 Years… 100 Laughs” list.
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