chaplin

Hitler, continued

An excerpt from Ron Rosenbaum's updated afterword to Explaining Hitler:

One regret I have about the original edition: I did not deal with the deeply misguided regard for Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, perhaps the most fraudulent aspect of the conventional wisdom about what might be called “Hitler culture.” Chaplin’s meretricious and in fact genuinely, historically damaging The Great Dictator is a film I’d seen long before focusing on this book and had taken for granted the conventional wisdom and knee-jerk approbation. And forgotten it. But its “courage” is one of those myths that really needs re-examining because it persists to this day. The myth that The Great Dictator was a bold challenge to Hitler or that it somehow damaged his cause. Quite the opposite.

It may be too late, but I feel an obligation to set the record straight. I’m recalling now how shocked I was when, after being invited to “present” a showing of it at the Harvard Film Archives, I actually watched it for the first time in years.

It was shocking on two levels. First, the fact that in his alleged anti-Hitler satire, who does Chaplin blame for the hostility his Hitler character has for the Jews? Jewish bankers! Jewish bankers turned down the Great Dictator and it’s all about getting even with those Jews. The Jews’ misfortune was their own fault, in effect. That’s the explanation Chaplin’s film left in its audience’s mind — probably the first impression much of America had. In addition, the impression that Hitler was a harmless joke, nothing to worry about. That’s what he told America at that crucial moment in October 1940 when the film was released. People seem to forget this when they get all misty-eyed about how great The Great Dictator is.