AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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The Great Dictator
Alternate Title: The Dictator
Director: Charles Chaplin (Dir)
Release Date:   7 Mar 1941
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 15 Oct 1940
Production Date:   mid Sep 1939--early Feb 1940
Duration (in mins):   127
Duration (in reels):   13
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Cast: People of the Palace: Charles Chaplin ([Adenoid] Hynkel, Dictator of Tomania)  
    Jack Oakie ([Benzini] Napaloni, Dictator of Bacteria)  
    Reginald Gardiner (Schultz)  
    Henry Daniell (Garbitsch)  
    Billy Gilbert (Herring)  
    Grace Hayle (Madame Napaloni)  
    Carter DeHaven [Sr.] (Bacterian Ambassador)  
  People of the Ghetto: Charles Chaplin (A Jewish barber)  
    Paulette Goddard (Hannah)  
    Maurice Moscovich (Mr. Jaeckel)  
    Emma Dunn (Mrs. Jaeckel)  
    Bernard Gorcey (Mr. Mann)  
    Paul Weigel (Mr. Agar)  
  And Chester Conklin    
    Esther Michelson    
    Hank Mann    
    Florence Wright    
    Eddie Gribbon    
    Robert O. Davis    
    Eddie Dunn    
    Nita Pike    
    Peter Lynn    

Summary: At the end of World War I, an Army private who in civilian life is a little Jewish barber, saves the life of the German officer Schultz as the two flee the conquering army. After their plane crashes during their escape, the Jewish barber suffers amnesia and is confined to a hospital during the rise of dictator Adenoid Hynkel. Years later, the barber returns to his shop in the ghetto of a city, unaware that the state is now under the sign of the double cross, that Jews are cruelly persecuted, and that the all powerful ruler of the land is megalomaniac Adenoid Hynkel, to whom the barber bears a striking resemblance. The barber tries to resist the treachery that he sees going on all around him, but is beaten and arrested with his friend Schultz, who has also spoken out against the persecution of the Jews. Schultz and the barber are sent to a prison camp, and Hynkel, his opposition quelled, plans the invasion of the neighboring country of Osterlich. As Benzini Napaloni, the Dictator of Bacteria, and Hynkel argue over control of Osterlich, Schultz and the barber escape from their prison. On the eve of the invasion of Osterlich, Hynkel is mistaken for the escaped barber and arrested. The barber then takes the place of the dictator on the parade platform and delivers an impassioned plea for human kindness and brotherly love. 

Production Company: Charles Chaplin Film Corp.  
Distribution Company: United Artists Corp.  
Director: Charles Chaplin (Dir)
  Dan James (Asst dir)
  Wheeler Dryden (Asst dir)
  Bob Meltzer (Asst dir)
Producer: Charles Chaplin (Prod)
Writer: Charles Chaplin (Scr)
Photography: Karl Struss (Dir of photog)
  Roland Totheroh (Dir of photog)
  William Wallace (Still photog)
Art Direction: J. Russell Spencer (Art dir)
  Dick Fritsch (Asst art dir)
Film Editor: Willard Nico (Film ed)
  Harold Rice (Film ed)
Music: Meredith Willson (Mus dir)
  Max Terr (Asst)
Sound: Percy Townsend (Sd)
  Glenn Rominger (Sd)
Special Effects: Ralph Hammeras (Spec eff)
  Jack Cosgrove (Spec eff)
Production Misc: Evelyn Earle (Scr clerk)
Country: United States

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Charles Chaplin Film Corp. 31/10/1940 dd/mm/yyyy LP10041

PCA NO: 6611
Physical Properties: Sd: RCA Sound System
  b&w:

 
Genre: Comedy-drama
 
Subjects (Major): Antisemitism
  Dictators
  Doubles
  Jews
  Mistaken identity
  Mythical lands
 
Subjects (Minor): Amnesia
  Barbers and barbershops
  Hospitals
  Parades
  Prison escapes
  Prisoners of war
  Slums
  Veterans
  World War I

Note: The working title of this picture was The Dictator . In the cast credits at the end of the film, Charles Chaplin is listed in both the "People of the Palace" and "People of the Ghetto" sections. An article in LAT adds that Charles Chaplin originally had difficulty in securing the title The Great Dictator , which was registered by Paramount. Through the efforts of Y. Frank Freeman, a Vice President at Paramount, Chaplin was finally accorded the privilege of using the title. Sources disagree about the production history of this film. A modern source states that in 1937, Alexander Korda suggested that Charles Chaplin produce an Adolf Hitler story based on mistaken identification. A Jun 1939 news item in HR , however, states that preliminary production work on the picture was begun after a three year postponement. According to materials contained in the MPAA/PCA files at the AMPAS Library, in Oct 1938, George Gyssling, German Consul, wrote Joseph I. Breen a letter objecting to Chaplin's intention to make a film that would "burlesque" Hitler. In response, Breen denied any knowledge of such a film. In Mar 1939, Brooke Wilkinson of the British Board of Film Censors cabled Breen and Alfred Reeves, the Vice President of Charles Chaplin Film Corp., that he had heard rumors that Chaplin was making a film about Hitler and requested a story outline and treatment. Breen then spoke to Chaplin, who replied that he had no script and no story. According to news items in HR , on 22 Jun 1939, set construction began for the picture, but preliminary production was halted by early Aug for Chaplin to doctor the script. Filming finally began in mid-Sep 1939. Another news item in HR notes that Fanny Brice was originally to have portrayed the dictator's wife. Articles in NYR add that Chaplin stated that he included footage of crowd scenes actually shot in Germany during Hitler's regime, and that Chaplin demanded secrecy on the set because he feared that someone might steal his idea.
       Although Chaplin's 1936 Modern Times had a synchronized score and sound effects, this was the first Chaplin film that had dialogue, a NYT points out. Contemporary reviews of the film criticzed it for dwelling too strongly on the Jews' plight in Germany and objected to the final speech as too preachy. The film received the following Academy Award Nominations: Best Actor (Chaplin); Best Supporting Actor (Jack Oakie); Best Original Score (Meredith Willson) and Best Original Screenplay (Chaplin). It was also included in the National Board of Review's "ten best" list of 1940. A news item in NYT notes that Chaplin refused the New York Film Critics Award as Best Actor because he disapproved of the competition it created among actors and disliked the electioneering process of the critics. Actor Maurice Moscovich, who portrayed "Mr. Jaeckel," died soon after the completion of this film.
       The film engendered several law suits and much controversy. According to MPH , Chaplin sued and won an injunction against Life magazine over the publication of a bootlegged photo picturing Chaplin as the dictator. In 1941, LAT reported that writer Konrad Bercovici filed a suit against Chaplin and United Artists for $5,000,000, charging that he had the original idea for the screenplay. Chaplin settled the suit for $90,000 and damages. An article in the NYT adds that after the film was completed, Chaplin was subpoenaed to testify before a Senate Subcommittee investigating the dissemination of war propaganda in films. The MPAA/PCA Files also contain a letter written to Senator Robert R. Reynolds of the U.S. Committee on Foreign Relations in which the writer, an American citizen, protests against Chaplin, an "alien", using the United States as a sounding to board to air his grievances against a foreign power. The writer warns of international repercussions.
       Modern program notes contained in the AMPAS library files report that the sequences of the barber were filmed at 16 frames per second and those of the director at 25 frames per second. The program also adds the following credits: Al Kay (musical librarian); Alex Finlayson (assistant director); Henry Bergman (general assistant); Dick Fritsch (assistant film editor); Rollin Brown (laboratory contact); Ed Boyle (set decorator); Clem Widrig (props); Frank Testera (electrical chief); William Bogdanoff (construction foreman); Eddie Voight (makeup); Frank Veseley (paint department); Oscar Wright (purchasing department). Modern sources also add Gloria DeHaven to the cast. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Daily Variety   15 Oct 40   p. 3.
Film Daily   16 Oct 40   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   23 Jun 39   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   13 Jul 39   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   1 Aug 39   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   30 Sep 39   pp. 6-7.
Hollywood Reporter   16 Dec 39   pp. 6-7.
Hollywood Reporter   28 Dec 39   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   27 Jan 40   pp. 6-7.
Hollywood Reporter   10 Feb 40   pp. 12-13.
Hollywood Reporter   29 Jul 40   p. 2.
Los Angeles Times   29 Jul 1940.   
Los Angeles Times   14 Apr 1941.   
Life   2 Sep 40   pp. 53-56.
Life   22 Sep 41   pp. 24-25.
Motion Picture Herald   22 Jun 40   p. 53.
Motion Picture Herald   19 Oct 40   p. 34.
New York Times   8 Sep 1940.   
New York Times   14 Oct 1940.   
New York Times   16 Oct 40   p. 29.
New York Times   20 Oct 40   sec 4, p. 8.
New York Times   20 Oct 40   sec 9, p. 5.
New York Times   5 Jan 1941.   
New York Times   14 Sep 1941.   
Variety   16 Oct 40   p. 16.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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