On this Day in Movie History, October 15, 1940: Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” Released

It was on this day, October 15, 1940, almost a full year before the United States would go to war against Nazi Germany, the only Hollywood film maker to continue to make silent films well into the period of sound films, Charles Chaplin wrote, produced, and directed, in addition to starring as the lead in his first true talking picture, his most commercially successful film. Entitled the Great Dictator, Chaplin’s film advanced a stirring, controversial condemnation of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini’s fascism, antisemitism, and the Nazis, whom he excoriates in the film as “machine men, with machine minds and machine hearts”.

The next day, on October 16, the New York Times critic Bosley Crowther raved “turns out to be a truly superb accomplishment by a truly great artist –– and, from one point of view, perhaps the most significant film ever produced.”

While Chaplin had supposedly received secret encouragement from President Roosevelt for the project, Hollywood itself kept its distance, frightened of Germany’s possible response. The Nazis had long had Chaplin in their own sights, naming him “a disgusting Jewish acrobat” in their 1934 booklet The Jews Are Looking at You. But after its popular reception, their tune changed.

The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, and led the way for other anti-Nazi comedies, most notably Ernst Lubitsch’s 1942 To Be or Not to Be. Years later, however, Chaplin himself wondered in My Autobiography, if he could had made the same film had he known the real depth of Nazi atrocities.

Birthdays
1900 – Mervyn LeRoy (director: Gypsy, Mister Roberts, The Bad Seed, The F.B.I. Story, Homecoming, Little Women, Madame Curie, A Majority of One, Quo Vadis, Rose Marie, Random Harvest, Thirty Seconds over Tokyo, Three on a Match; died Sep 13, 1987)

1924 – Jos’ Quintero (director: Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, Medea; died Feb 26, 1999)

1926 – Jean Peters (actress: Three Coins in the Fountain, Apache, Broken Lance, Viva Zapata, It Happens Every Spring; died Oct 13, 2000)

1934 – Peter Haskell (actor: Robot Wars, Child’s Play, Christina, Bracken’s World, The Law and Harry McGraw, Rich Man, Poor Man-Book II, Rituals)

1943 – Penny (Carole) Marshall (actress: Laverne & Shirley, The Odd Couple, The Bob Newhart Show; director: Renaissance Man, Big, A League of Their Own, Awakenings, Jumpin’ Jack Flash; sister of director, producer Garry Marshall)

1946 – Victor Banerjee (actor: Bitter Moon, Foreign Body, The Home and the World, A Passage to India)

1955 – Tanya Roberts (Leigh) (actress: Charlie’s Angels, Deep Down, Sins of Desire, Body Slam, A View to a Kill, Tourist Trap, California Dreaming, Forced Entry)

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