With all the hubbub surrounding the recent decision by Sony Pictures to pull the premier of The Interview, a film satirizing North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, due to threats by anonymous hackers, let’s recall a time when Hollywood still had (I’m sorry to say it) balls.
During the filming of The Great Dictator, Chaplin’s 1940 satire of Adolph Hitler, he received death threats and crank letters: “Some threatened to throw stink bombs in the theatre and shoot up the screen where ever it would be shown. Others threatened to create riots.”1 But Chaplin never once considered canceling the film. He believed his film had a message and that his voice should be heard. As a comedian, Chaplin believed his only weapon against evil was humor. “I’m the clown,” Chaplin told the New York Times in 1940, “and what can I do that is more effective than to laugh at these fellows who are putting humanity to the goose-step; who, as I say in one of my first captions, are kicking humanity around?….If there is one thing I know it is that power can always be made ridiculous. The bigger that fellow gets the harder my laughter will hit him.” 2
Author & theater owner George R.R. Martin summed up the canceling of The Interview nicely in a recent blog post:
“The level of corporate cowardice here astonishes me. It’s a good thing these guys weren’t around when Charlie Chaplin made The Great Dictator. If Kim Jong-Un scares them, Adolf Hitler would have had them shitting in their smallclothes.”
1Chaplin, My Autobiography, 1964
2Robert Van Gelder, “Chaplin Draws A Keen Weapon,” New York Times, September 8, 1940