The greatest speech ever recorded

This is from Charlie Chaplin’s self-directed, self-produced, self-funded, and starred film, The Great Dictator. He plays both a Jewish barber and the dictator-mockery of Adolph Hitler. This scene has him as the Jewish barber character having switched places with the dictator as he needs to deliver a speech. Though it would be most accurate to say that Mr. Chaplin gave the speech as himself (he does after all quote the book of Luke).

The history behind this speech is incredible.  He began writing the movie in 1938 before the war began. It was released in 1940, originally banned before its release in the UK due to their appeasement policy with Germany, though the UK had declared war and thus allowed it by the time of its release . It was released well before the US had entered the war. The Great Dictator was also Chaplin’s first fully spoken movie. His inclusion of wanting to help all men, “Black man, white”, is notably overlooked. This speech was given well before segregation had ended in the US and such an inclusion was powerful.

In his first ever fully-spoken role, Chaplin spoke some of the most powerful words recorded. He was reluctant to take a spoken role, but knew that only with speech could he make the poignant statement that he did. And he did so at great personal cost. He undertook the entirety of the movie on his own dollar, doing all the work himself. More than that, he sacrificed his popularity by being willing to put his beliefs, many of which were not popular, to word.

This speech is why I am an English major. It shows the power of language. We may stand against tyranny and evil without resorting to the same methods of violence that they espouse. We can change hearts and thus the world through written and spoken word. Any change lacking a change to the heart is temporary, unjustifiable, untenable. If we are to change the world, we must change hearts.


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