Released in the midst of the greatest war in history, Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator was the actor's masterwork of political commentary and comedic art in its highest form. Chaplin, whose trademark mustache closely resembled Adolf Hitler's, used the film to satirize the evil dictator using the tools he had at hand: scalpel-like wit and his worldwide renown stemming from his one of the earliest stars in movie history.
In the film, Chaplin plays an Adolf Hitler lookalike called Adenoid Hynkle. Hitler, said Chaplin, "must be laughed at," a profound but controversial take on the man whose Blitzkrieg was reducing much of Europe to rubble as he hounded so-called untermensch into the gas chambers at Auschwitz and Buchenwald and burned his way through Poland and Russia.
While the film was greeted by many critics as both worthy and warranted, it was the six minute monolog delivered by Chaplin in character at the end of the speech that drew criticism. Some even linked it to the beginning of the end of his career, which was accompanied by accusations of fathering a child out of wedlock as well as his marriage to Oona O'Neill.
The speech, for whatever its artistic merits, still bears heeding today. There is no end to tyranny in the world, even while there has been a change in the faces of dictators and the causes for which they are willing to shed the blood of the masses they rule. Underlying conflicts between people are economic and business interests that pit nations against each other, even against their respective wills. "Wars, conflict, it's all business," said Chaplin in 1947, and quoting Anglican Bishop Beilby Porteous - a famed advocate of the manumission of slaves - "'One murder makes a villain. Millions a hero.'"
Playing a Jewish barber who is mistakenly identified as the dictator Hynkle, Chaplin addresses the masses assembled to hear the words of the tyrant, but instead hears a speech calling upon their better nature. But he also calls upon the woman he loves, Hannah, who represents the democratic working class soul of Europe that struggled against the advance of Fascism and Nazism. Chaplin's Great Dictator speech is excerpted below:
"I should like to help everyone, if possible, Jew, gentile, black man, white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other's happiness — not by each other's misery. We don't want to hate and despise one another."