Relevant To Iran: Charlie Chaplin’s Great Dictator Speech
The great comedian Charlie Chaplin’s stirring speech about liberty at the end of his 1940 film “The Great Dictator” is more relevant than ever given events in Iran. Watch it in full below:
A PERSONAL NOTE: In this sound film, Chaplin, in a dual role, used his beloved “tramp” character to play the double of a dictator not so subtly patterned after Adolf Hitler. At the end, they wind up switching places and the Jewish barber (the tramp) gets up to deliver the tyrant’s speech in his mistaken identity — and delivers a passionate speech in favor of liberty and freedom and against tyranny. But it was Chaplin himself who was talking to the world — and from his own heart. He later said he regretted making the film once he found out just how hideous Hitler actually had been. Even so it’s a film that still holds up as sheer genius in comedic and serious terms…as you can see here. (Once Chaplin had used the tramp in this sound film, he retired the character totally.)
And I was in Madrid to witness how compelling Chaplin’s message the end was.
I had freelanced in India as the credentialed stringer correspondent for the now defunct Chicago Daily News from January 1973 until May 1975. I then moved to Madrid, where I became the Special Correspondent (a kind of full time stringer) for The Christian Science Monitor, where I would remain until December 1978 (I also did some op-ed pieces similar to blog posts for a host of papers around the world and some live reports for NPR’s All Things Considered).
The Great Dictator had been banned from Spain under Francisco Franco’s regime. But once the Spanish dictator died in October 1975, it was released in Spain — and had impact. Not just on Spain, but on me. I saw the version dubbed in Spanish and loved it so much I saw it 13 times…and it helped me to fine-tune my Spanish.
At the end of its showings in Spain, when Chaplin made the speech above, Spaniards, freed from the controls of the Franco years (the government there would do a successful “evolution not revolution” from Francoism to full-fledged democracy), would sit silently…intently…then jump to their feet and applaud loudly at the end of it. They didn’t just WATCH the message…they knew what he was talking about.
I wound up writing a story about the movie’s debut in Spain and the reaction to it for the Monitor, and also for Newsweek’s international edition (I had done some stringing for Newsweek’s Madrid bureau during the last months of Franco’s regime).
The speech is as meaningful, relevant and stirring as it was when it was made — a timeless message, delivered with timeless passion, in a timeless movie. Made more relevant than other today, given events in Iran.