Adolf Hitler banned The Great Dictator in Germany and all countries run by the Nazis. However, it is reported that curiousity got the best of him and that he had a print brought in through Portugal so he could watch it. He is reported to have watched the film twice, however no one can say what he thought of it. Chaplin later said, “I’d give anything to know what he thought of it”.
Color footage on set of The Great Dictator was taken, and includes some shots of the abandoned ending. As tensions raged about the Nazis, and Hitler’s true tyranny became more apparent Chaplin decided to change the ending from a humorous song and dance number to a serious speech.
Note: Color footage begins at 0:45
The Great Dictator would mark the last time Chaplin would use his Tramp character for which he had become famous. Officially the Tramp was retired in Chaplin’s previous film, Modern Times (1936), and although he makes an appearance as the Tramp Chaplin never considered The Great Dictator a “Tramp film”.
At the time the film was made Chaplin was married to Paulette Goddard, although their marriage was always considered sketchy throughout Hollywood. He cast her as Hannah, the cleaning woman. During filming their marriage had hit the rocks, and was deteriorating beyond repair despite their endless attempts to save it. According to some Chaplin had insisted that Goddard scrub the entire floor of the set to add to her character portrayal, when she refused he halted production until she agreed.
When word began to get around in Hollywood that Chaplin was planning on making a film mocking Adolf Hitler, studio heads and producers scoffed. Some laughed at the idea thinking Chaplin was ridiculous for thinking it, while others discouraged him from doing for fear of it causing a political stir between America and the Nazis. However upon hearing that others were trying to discourage Chaplin from making the picture Franklin D. Roosevelt sent Harry Hopkins to encourage him to create the film.
Charlie Chaplin originally got the idea to parody Adolf Hitler in a film after his friend, Alexander Korda suggested the two looked alike. Chaplin would learn that he and Hitler shared more than just looks. They were born within a week of each other (Chaplin on April 16, 1889 and Hitler on April 20, 1889), they were about the same height and weight, and they had both grown up in poverty and became highly successful in their careers. When Chaplin learned of Hitler’s oppressive views, and nationalist aggression he decided he would use their similarities to attack Hitler.
Lucille Ball’s hopes of revitalizing her film career obviously failed, thus Mame was her final theatrical role. It was difficult for her to do, she found the costumes uncomfortable, and often suffered headaches. She later said that making Mame was “about as much fun as watching your house burn down.”
The film was originally intended to be released in late 1973 so it would be fresh in the minds of the Academy during nomination season. However, when the Warner Bros. executives screened the final film they decided that the film was so bad that Academy Award nominations were highly unlikely, so waited until spring of 1974 to release the film.
One of the biggest concerns for the executives about casting Lucille Ball as Mame was that she could not sing. During her series I Love Lucy the running gag throughout the series was the fact that she wanted to be a star but couldn’t sing a note. In 1960 she had appeared in a smash Broadway musical, Wildcat, although critics panned her singing abilities. Jerry Herman worked hard to train Ball’s voice, but found it impossible because she would get winded after just one line. In the end multiple takes had to be pieced together to make up a full song.
Director Gene Saks was, at the time of filming, married to Bea Arthur and cast her as Vera Charles, the role she originated on Broadway (and won a Tony Award for). Arthur was at the time starring in her hit CBS sitcom, Maude, and didn’t really want to appear in the film, however she signed on for the chance to work with her husband. In 2008 she called the film a disaster.