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The most successful film of Charlie Chaplin’s career was also the most controversial: in The Great Dictator, Chaplin viciously satirized Hitler before the US entered World War II, and the comedy helped rally a previously war-shy American public. We’ll explore the connections between Chaplin and Adolf Hitler, and explain why most of Hollywood tried to stop The Great Dictator from being made. Then we’ll switch gears to discuss how Chapin’s wartime activism and his troubled personal life collided to benefit J. Edgar Hoover, who spent thirty years trying to prove that Chaplin was dangerously un-American.
The impetus for this episode was a documentary produced and aired by TCM, which I first saw about a year ago, called The Tramp and the Dictator. The film was co-directed by Michael Kloft and the great silent film historian Kevin Brownlow (if you haven't seen his series Hollywood, on the silent era, find it and watch it post haste), and it tells the story of how and why Chaplin made The Great Dictator, using previously unseen material shot on the set of the film. I thought it would be interesting to contrast this aspect of Chaplin's war experience with the section of City of Nets in which Otto Friedrich describes Chaplin's personal life and the scandals it caused during the war years as a kind of prelude to the legal issues that would get him thrown out of the US a few years later.
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