The Great Dictator (film)
Region: North America, Europe
Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion
Medium: Film Video
Artist: Charles Chaplin
Confronting Bodies: Governments of the United States, Britain, and Germany
Description of Artwork: The Great Dictator is a satire of Hitler. He uses Hitler's own methods of propaganda by studying his style and gestures to mock him. The climactic scene comes when one of the main characters, a Jewish barber ( played by Chaplin), escapes from a concentration camp only to be recaptured and mistaked for the dictator, Hynkel (who is also played by Chaplin). He is brought to a mass rally where he delivers a speech on injustice.
Dates of Action: 1915, 1923
The Incident: In 1915 Chaplin first had his work censored in the British colonies for the way they portrayed policemen, where they were thought to be subversive.
In 1923 Chaplin's film studio, United Artists, urged him to cancel the movie.
The British Board of Film Censors tried to get production for the movie stopped in an effort to appease Hitler and maintain British-German relations. When the movie premiered in England in 1940 England was at war with Germany and the movie was used as propaganda.
Dates of Action: 1940, 1952
The Incident: In 1940 the movie premiere in New York but was banned in Chicago because of the city's large German population.
In 1941 Senator Nye of North Dakota cited The Great Dictator among the films called for in resolution to look into pro-war propaganda in films.
In 1942 Chaplin had been urging for the opening of a second front against Germany, which was then part of the left-wing and Communist Party agenda. This prompted J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, to open up a file on Chaplin which in the end ran over 1,900 pages. In 1952 he was investigated by Senator McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee, which led to Chaplin exiling himself for 20 years. During this time his films were censored in the United States.
Results of Incident: In 1972 Chaplin returned to the United States to receive an Oscar. The Great Dictator has been selected by the Library of Congress for inclusion in the National Film Registry. The film was played in Germany after the war and in Spain after the fall of Franco in 1976.
Source: Censorship: A World Encyclopedia