In his second Charlie Chaplin documentary, the English filmmaker Kevin Brownlow examines the artist and his fascination with Adolf Hitler, the subject of Chaplin's 1940 masterpiece "The Great Dictator".
"The Little Tramp"
The similarities were uncanny.
Charlie Chaplin, America’s beloved and controversial "Little Tramp," and Adolph Hitler, the world’s most despised dictator, were both born in the same week of the same month of the same year. They shared the same moustache and both became artists: Hitler a failed painter, Chaplin an incredibly famous actor and film maker.
Yet when someone suggested to Chaplin in 1938 that he make a film about the powerful dictator, he balked at first.
But then Chaplin began looking at the influence the dictator had on the German people, and his ability to convince them to do most anything.
He locked himself up in his private screening room and watched hours of Hitler footage. He studied the dictator’s mannerisms and speech patterns and emerged two years later with a film that smashed all the previous box office records.
More than 60 years later, English documentary film maker and Chaplin fanatic Kevin Brownlow has emerged with a documentary about the legendary filmmaker and the making of his 1940 classic, "The Great Dictator". "The Tramp and the Dictator" is showing this week at the 52nd annual Berlin International Film Festival.
In his second documentary about Chaplin, Brownlow looks at the comedian’s brilliant parody of Hitler, whom Chaplin called Hynkel. He interviews experts and historians on the biographical similarities between the two figures.
Brownlow, who won Chaplain’s widow’s cooperation for his 1982 documentary "The Unknown Chaplain" also brings forth unreleased color footage from the Chaplain family archive.
The solitary perfectionist
The footage shows a determined and perfectionist Chaplin in rehearsal mode. The comedian was so obsessed with keeping his new film a secret, he refused to allow a photographer on the set to take pictures of him working.
He also brushed off potential financial backers, preferring to pay for the $2 million film out of his own pocket in order to have absolute freedom.
When "The Great Dictator" finally hit screens in October 1940, it was a surprise to virtually everyone.
"The little tramp, Charlie Chaplin, finally emerged last night from behind the close-guarded curtains which have concealed his activities these past two years and presented himself in triumphal splendor," wrote Crowther.
The film found its way to Yugoslavia, where, legend goes, a projectionist mistakenly showed it to German soldiers.
Several reports have it going all the way to Hitler’s chancellery.
But whether "Der Führer" caught a glimpse of his doppelgänger remains a mystery.