Charlie Chaplin and The Great Dictator: The Speech that Resounds Across Time

How can you not be moved by this face?  The face that says “I’m just like you” but brows speak of an ability to find surprise in the mundane.  The mustache says “I may not be perfect, but I try” and the eyes shine the light of a man’s sorrow and a boy’s innocent curiosity.  I have always adored Charlie Chaplin for just these things and so much more.

The Movies Now Network here in India has been airing Charlie Chaplin movies every Thursday evening this month.  I’ve been so grateful and delighted to have been reminded of the artistry and comedic genius of Mr. Chaplin.  The man was a remarkable comedian and evokes more belly laughter in a black and white silent film than any in-living-color comedian could hope to master with such ease and grace.

But let me get around to the point I’m writing this piece.  Last night’s movie was The Great Dictator.  Released in October of 1940, this was Chaplin’s first true “talkie” film although he continued making silent films well into a decade where they had left fashion.  If you’re not familiar with this flick, it lampoons Hitler and Nazi Germany.  Like all of his films, Chaplin, wrote, directed, produced and starred in its leading role.

Chaplin plays two characters in this film.  One is a Jewish barber and the other is Adenoid Hynkel  (his version of Adolph Hitler).  If you’d like to know more about the film and its plot, this link should satisfy your curiosity.

Although this proved to be his most successful film, I personally didn’t find it had as much whimsy and simplistic depth as his silent films.  What did stand out, however, and the reason you’re reading about it on this blog, was a totally unexpected speech at the very end of the movie.  Chaplin was a master of those honest and poignant blind-siding moments that never fail to take my breath away and this was one of those.  The speech literally reached across the gulf of decades and spoke to real current world issues with both honesty and hope.  I was so moved I had to pull it out of yesteryear’s closet in hopes of enforcing the sentiment that the “machine men with machine hearts” never have our best interests in mind in a world where violence and greed seem to be the guiding force of humanity.

First, let me set up what has happened to lead our character, the Jewish barber, to the predicament he finds himself in that leads to his speech.  He escapes from a concentration camp wearing the enemy’s uniform.  Border guards mistake him for Hynkel because they look nearly identical.  At the same time, Hynkel falls overboard during a duck-hunting trip and mistaken for the barber and is arrested by his own soldiers.  The barber, now secretly assuming Hynkel’s identity is taken to the capital of Osterlich to make a victory speech.  He is introduced to the throngs by Minister of the Interior Garbitsch who decries free speech and argues for the subjugation of the Jews.

Then our reluctant hero takes the podium and says:

“I’m sorry but I don’t want to be an Emperor, that’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. 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 all want to live by each other’s happiness, not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone and the earth is rich and can provide for everyone.

The way of life can be free and beautiful. But we have lost the way.

Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate;
has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed.

We have developed speed but we have shut ourselves in:
machinery that gives abundance has left us in want.
Our knowledge has made us cynical,
our cleverness hard and unkind.
We think too much and feel too little:
More than machinery we need humanity;
More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness.

Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.

The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men, cries out for universal brotherhood for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people. To those who can hear me I say “Do not despair”.

The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress: the hate of men will pass and dictators die and the power they took from the people, will return to the people and so long as men die [now] liberty will never perish. . .

Soldiers: don’t give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you and enslave you, who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel, who drill you, diet you, treat you as cattle, as cannon fodder.

Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men, machine men, with machine minds and machine hearts. You are not machines. You are not cattle. You are men. You have the love of humanity in your hearts. You don’t hate, only the unloved hate. Only the unloved and the unnatural. Soldiers: don’t fight for slavery, fight for liberty.

In the seventeenth chapter of Saint Luke it is written:
“The kingdom of God is within man”
Not one man, nor a group of men, but in all men; in you, the people.

You the people have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness. You the people have the power to make life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then in the name of democracy let’s use that power, let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give you the future and old age and security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power, but they lie. They do not fulfil their promise, they never will. Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people. Now let us fight to fulfil that promise. Let us fight to free the world, to do away with national barriers, do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness.

Soldiers! In the name of democracy, let us all unite!

. . .

Look up! Look up! The clouds are lifting, the sun is breaking through. We are coming out of the darkness into the light. We are coming into a new world. A kind new world where men will rise above their hate and brutality.

The soul of man has been given wings, and at last he is beginning to fly. He is flying into the rainbow, into the light of hope, into the future, that glorious future that belongs to you, to me and to all of us. Look up. Look up.”

Here is the scene where he makes the speech from the film “The Great Dictator”:

I hope this moved you as it did me.  I hope you will share it with those you think might benefit.  Look up, Look up.  We must never stop looking up.

If you enjoy Charlie Chaplin, you may also enjoy A Little Sweetness–Charlie Chaplin Kiss Me.

29 thoughts on “Charlie Chaplin and The Great Dictator: The Speech that Resounds Across Time

  1. Chaplin was a genius…its amazing that he can still reach out from over 70 years ago and still move and inspire. I really loved this article…I’m going to have to invest in some Charlie Chaplin films! Thanks for sharing!

    • Sarah, I feel the same way. He was a genius. I’ve really been enjoying these movies and can’t help but marvel at his talent. I’m glad you liked the article. Feel free to share it!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it, Arindam. I don’t know what part of the country you’re in or if you’ve been enjoying the movies like I have, but yes, I had to post this one. Thanks for reading!

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  5. I initially found this speech through a youtube video.
    It is a remix of the speech by M3itis –
    I can honestly say I was moved to tears and am so glad the words of this humble genius can continue to reach a younger generation many years on.

    • It had the same affect on me. I find it interesting that given the ever increasing level of outcry for change all over the globe this is the post on my blog that gets the most visits every day. Even though he’s no longer with us, Charlie has a way of touching the very core of the human heart in the humblest of ways. I think he echoed the sentiments of citizens everywhere. I hope his message keeps moving forward. Thanks so much for visiting!

      • he has like my father and we will remember he in own dream and everything we do ..i miss him so much..and sometime cry o see him again ..i love u charlie and still be bless…

      • Thank you for reading and visiting, Samuel. I agree with you. Charlie had a way of warming the heart in such a lasting way his legend is still going strong. He was an amazing talent, not only as a comedian and actor, but a writer, composer, musician and director as well. Just an incredible individual. 🙂

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  7. Wow, I’m actually emotional watching this guy and that’s not easy for a 6/4 300lbs rugby player! Truly inspiring speech and yet sadly so relevant today as our countries fight for oil. Great artists provide escapism and this truly took me out of my world for a few minutes.
    Fantastic stuff, movie gold. Thank you.

    • It sounds like you had the same reaction to it that I did. What amazes me about Chaplin in his films, he is absolutely hilarious but always included one very poignant, honest, human moment in each of his films. This speech is one of those. It does reach across time and still hits home today. Thanks so much for enjoying!

  8. For those of you who don’t know, Melodysheep has made a music version of this speech, and it is unbelievably powerful. Even more so now that I know Charlie actually wrote everything (the speech, not the song.. :D)

    Melodysheep is the guy behind Symphony of Science. For some reason the Chaplin thing isn’t on his page, it might have been made for someone the way he did with the PBS songs. Anyways, this amazing speech becomes even more powerful in music form. I urge you all to have a look see 🙂 It’s beautiful.

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  11. Truly I was moved by the speech. I was emotionally touched and I have decided to re-read the speech by heart!
    It’s so amazing

  12. I discovered this speech on an indie music playlist one day, and it gave me goosebumps. What an amazing human being Charlie Chapman was. Very, very beautiful. Thank you for sharing

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