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Film

The Charlie Chaplin film that Adolf Hitler watched twice

Throughout history, many dictators have expressed their admiration for the cinematic medium. While some have it as a tool to spread propaganda, others have marvelled at the magic of the movies. According to many reports, Adolf Hitler was also a cinephile and one of the films he allegedly watched multiple times was directed by none other than Charlie Chaplin.

In fact, many historians have discovered that Hitler’s idea of the second World War was deeply informed by the cinematic medium since he mostly experienced it through newsreels and documentary clips that were shot on the battlefields. In addition to those, Hitler’s close associates claimed that he spent his free time watching a lot of films – especially American movies.

Some claimed that Hitler was a fan of icons such as Marlene Dietrich as well as Greta Garbo, often demanding an immediate supply of the latest films of his favourite actors even if they were banned in the country. Interestingly, the Charlie Chaplin film that Hitler is supposed to have watched twice is the most famous satirical treatment of the fascist.

Titled The Great Dictator, it is probably the most famous sound film Chaplin ever made and it has become immortalised in popular culture due to the iconic ending monologue. Although Chaplin had promised that he would never play The Tramp in a sound production, his rendition of Hitler appeared to be an analogue of the beloved character.

Chaplin’s son even wrote that the comedian was obsessed with the dictator: “Their destinies were poles apart. One was to make millions weep, while the other was to set the whole world laughing. Dad could never think of Hitler without a shudder, half of horror, half of fascination. ‘Just think’, he would say uneasily, ‘he’s the madman, I’m the comic. But it could have been the other way around.'”

When Hitler heard that Chaplin was making such a subversive film, he was reportedly angered. Many parts of the world with fascist sympathies banned The Great Dictator as well but like all great art, it has survived the test of time and is now seen as the perfect example of what cinema can achieve during the most difficult times.

There are conflicting reports about Hitler’s viewing of The Great Dictator, with some sources claiming that Chaplin sent his project to the fascist himself while his architect Albert Speer claimed that Hitler had never seen the film. Chaplin’s biographer Jeffrey Vance provided some more details about this rumour.

Vance recorded the testimony of an agent who fled Nazi Germany and had previously worked at the Nazi Ministry of Culture. According to that agent, the Nazi officials had acquired a copy of The Great Dictator for Hitler and the dictator watched the film on his own before watching it alone for the second time the next evening. When Chaplin heard of this, he said: “I’d give anything to know what he thought of it.”

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