When Keith Britton got in touch and said he would like to be Charlie Chaplin playing Hitler in The Great Dictator I had some reservations but when he told me that it was the film that people were watching when the bomb dropped on the The National Picture thankfully all 150 people escaped and there were no casualties. The interior of the building was completely destroyed but remarkably the facade survived and still survives to this day, including fragments of the Foyer and vestibule behind it.
The Great Dictator is a 1940 American political satire comedy-drama film written, directed, produced, scored by and starring Charlie Chaplin, following the tradition of many of his other films. Having been the only Hollywood film-maker to continue to make silent films well into the period of sound films, this was Chaplin’s first true sound film.
Chaplin’s film advanced a stirring, controversial condemnation of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, fascism, antisemitism, and the Nazis. At the time of its first release, the United States was still formally at peace with Nazi Germany. Chaplin plays both leading roles: a ruthless fascist dictator, and a persecuted Jewish barber.
The Great Dictator was popular with audiences, becoming Chaplin’s most commercially successful film. Modern critics have also praised it as a historically significant film and an important work of satire. The Great Dictator was nominated for five Academy Awards – Outstanding Production, Best Actor, Best Writing (Original Screenplay), Best Supporting Actor for Jack Oakie, and Best Music (Original Score).
In his 1964 autobiography, Chaplin stated that he could not have made the film if he had known about the true extent of the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps at the time.
Ypu can see the closing speech from the film here: