The Great Dictator is a 1940 American satirical political comedy-drama film written, directed, produced, scored by and starring Charlie Chaplin, following the tradition of many of his other films. Having been the only Hollywood film-maker to continue to make silent films well into the period of sound films, this was Chaplin's first true talking picture.
Chaplin's film advanced a stirring, controversial condemnation of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, fascism, antisemitism, and the Nazis. At the time of its first release, the United States was still formally at peace with Nazi Germany. Chaplin plays both leading roles: a ruthless fascist dictator, and a persecuted Jewish barber.
The Great Dictator was popular with audiences, becoming Chaplin's most commercially successful film. Modern critics have also praised it as a historically significant film and an important work of satire. The Great Dictator was nominated for five Academy Awards.
In his 1964 autobiography, Chaplin stated that he could not have made the film if he had known about the true extent of the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps at the time.
In 1997, The Great Dictator was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant".
According to Jurgen Trimborn's biography of Nazi propaganda film-maker Leni Riefenstahl, both Chaplin and French film-maker Rene Clair viewed Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will together at a showing at the New York Museum of Modern Art. Film maker Luis Bunuel reports that Clair was horrified by the power of the film, crying out that this should never be shown or the West was lost. Chaplin, on the other hand, laughed uproariously at the film. He used it to inspire many elements of The Great Dictator, and by repeatedly viewing this film, Chaplin could closely mimic Hitler's mannerisms.