When The Mime Screamed

Here are the words that made Charlie Chaplin break his silence. Listen and repeat.


4 thoughts on “When The Mime Screamed

  1. kvennarad

    I wonder if Chaplin had, in fact, watched any of Hitler’s public speeches. We’re used to ‘bites’ of Hitler ranting, but in fact his speeches were longer versions of precisely what we see in this scene. He began with silence, allowing his audience to become restless; then he started to speak quietly, so that people had to strain to hear – this actually made them attentive; only when he had their full attention did he begin to increase volume, using the natural rhythms of German, building a crescendo with a cadence at he end. I hate to say this but, ignoring the content, Hitler was probably the greatest public orator of the 20c. And perhaps the last. The 20c was the century that saw oratory diminish anyway, due to communication technology – political speeches eventually came to be made from behind a desk to TV cameras. The only comparable orator was Martin Luther King Jr (admittedly later than Hitler, so perhaps he was in fact the last), and his brilliance came from the practice of the pulpit.

    In this scene from ‘The Great Dictator’, Chaplin uses exactly the same devices as Hitler, not mimicking the German metre but using the English. However, apart from right at the end, he uses no histrionic gestures. The main reason for this is that he is in close-up throughout, and all the gesturing would have looked silly; but the effect is that he makes us concentrate on the words.

    Sadly, so soon after the defeat of Hitler, Chaplin’s words here were forgotten. The world retreated again behind its fortified national borders, its ethnic distrust and hatred, its jealous guarding of wealth, its utter disregard of freedom, its cruel parody of democracy.

    1. cottonbombs Post author

      I greatly appreciate your response here, Marie. Brave to compare Hitler to King. Once you remove content from the equation, you have a great point. Both men were great orators. One spoke for peace the other spoke for evil. Like the angel and the devil on the shoulder of humanity. Chaplin knew evil when he saw it and started filming the Great Dictator a year before the war broke out. These words are universal and we all know it. The trick is to remind ourselves of what we know and who we are.


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