In the wake of Sony’s decision to shelve (for now) the Seth Rogan and James Franco comedy The Interview, which follows the two stars as they attempt to assassinate Kim Jong-Un, dear leader of North Korea, I am reminded of another comedy in Hollywood’s history that ridiculed a tyrant – Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator.
This picture would mark the legend’s first foray into “talkies.” The film would also lampoon Adolf Hitler (the man who stole The Little Tramp’s signature facial hair) and would most assuredly offend the Nazi dictator and his followers. This film would draw a lot of attention, Under pressure by Hollywood studios and the press not to make a picture for fear most countries wouldn’t allow it’s screening. Chaplin rejected the obvious appeasement of Hitler, bucked the naysayers and funded the film himself. The silent movie star would be, silent no longer. Upon it’s release it became Chaplin’s high grossing film.
There is a wonderful short documentary about the making of The Great Dictator (embedded below). It describes Chaplin’s foresight into the future that Hitler would impose on the world. Chaplin had admitted afterwards, that if he knew the extent of Hitler’s barbarism, he couldn’t have made fun of the Nazi insanity. But this was before the world would fully know the horrors. Still, Charlie Chaplin forged ahead and fought for what he believed in, Liberty. The film’s final scene, a 4 min speech that speaks truth to power is a daring climax for any filmmaker – but to do so in the face of pure evil, the kind of evil I need not describe as “since Hitler” but, actually Hitler – is what lovers of liberty and human freedom should strive to champion.
Based on most early accounts (50% rating on Rotten Tomatoes), The Interview was not going to be as effective as The Great Dictator , or as daring as Citizen Kane, or hell, even as funny as Team America: World Police. It’s just a buddy comedy with an easy target for it’s antagonist. Adolf Hitler, while powerful, ruthless, and evil was an easy target for ridicule during his rise to power and has been parodied ever since (Google, “Hitler Reacts…” for proof). I fear with Sony’s capitulation, they have now crowned Kim Jong-Un “The Untouchable.” A title that even Hitler never enjoyed.
Hollywood needs more Charlie Chaplins.