Chaplin reveals the ridiculous challenges of making the ‘Great Dictator’

Though Charlie Chaplin was probably best known for his silent films and for creating films like Modern Times (which were cut up and black-and-white) and The Great Dictator (whose title pretty much gives it away), he also met some formidable challenges while making what proved to be one of his best movies: the 1921 satire The Great Dictator.

The centerpiece of the plot was the lead character, Max Bialystock, who systematically swindled wealthy Jewish patrons who contributed to the production of the film, by secretly upping the budget when needed, while spending less money in other areas. Chaplin, by contrast, had spent two and a half years writing the script, and the producers insisted on cosmetic changes to it as well as a true 17-day shooting schedule.

According to the New York Times, Chaplin was prepared to leave the production if its ridiculous nature remained intact. But the government refused, and the last week in August was spent with fussy dictatorial officials instead of Chaplin’s lively, boisterous character.

Upon completion of the film, which drew raves from critics and many audiences alike, Chaplin traveled to Waterville Golf Club, on Lake George, a golfing resort five hours from his home in Chelsea, to wait for the government to approve its release. There, The New York Times said, “the proceedings began, a large cheering crowd of his fellow actors, crew and fans encircled the comical playboy,” and continued, “into the night. Charlie received five one-ounce golden coins for his effort, becoming a footnote in American history.”

The purpose of the trip, as some critics commented at the time, was “rekindling the spirit of camaraderie with fellow performers.”

“Everyone was with Charlie,” said Evelyn Forte, a member of the play’s cast. “Everyone who could remember was there.”

Read the full story in The New York Times.


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