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The working title of this picture was The Dictator. An article in Los Angeles Times adds that Charles Chaplin originally had difficulty in securing the title The Great Dictator, which was registered by Paramount. Through the efforts of Y. Frank Freeman, a Vice President at Paramount, Chaplin was finally accorded the privilege of using the title. Sources disagree about the production history of this film. A modern source states that in 1937, Alexander Korda suggested that Charles Chaplin produce an Adolf Hitler story based on mistaken identification. A June 1939 news item in Hollywood Reporter, however, states that preliminary production work on the picture was begun after a three year postponement. According to materials contained in the MPAA/PCA files at the AMPAS Library, in October 1938, George Gyssling, German Consul, wrote Joseph I. Breen a letter objecting to Chaplin's intention to make a film that would "burlesque" Hitler. In response, Breen denied any knowledge of such a film. In March 1939, Brooke Wilkinson of the British Board of Film Censors cabled Breen and Alfred Reeves, the Vice President of Charles Chaplin Film Corp., that he had heard rumors that Chaplin was making a film about Hitler and requested a story outline and treatment. Breen then spoke to Chaplin, who replied that he had no script and no story. According to news items in Hollywood Reporter, on June 22, 1939, set construction began for the picture, but preliminary production was halted by early August for Chaplin to doctor the script. Filming finally began in mid-September 1939. Another news item in Hollywood Reporter notes that Fanny Brice was originally to have portrayed the dictator's wife. Articles in New York Review add that Chaplin stated that he included footage of crowd scenes actually shot in Germany during Hitler's regime, and that Chaplin demanded secrecy on the set because he feared that someone might steal his idea.
Although Chaplin's 1936 Modern Times had a synchronized score and sound effects, this was the first Chaplin film that had dialogue, a New York Times points out. Contemporary reviews of the film criticzed it for dwelling too strongly on the Jews' plight in Germany and objected to the final speech as too preachy. The film received the following Academy Award Nominations: Best Actor (Chaplin); Best Supporting Actor (Jack Oakie); Best Original Score (Meredith Willson) and Best Original Screenplay (Chaplin). It was also included in the National Board of Review's "ten best" list of 1940. A news item in New York Times notes that Chaplin refused the New York Film Critics Award as Best Actor because he disapproved of the competition it created among actors and disliked the electioneering process of the critics. Actor Maurice Moscovich, who portrayed "Mr. Jaeckel," died soon after the completion of this film.
The film engendered several law suits and much controversy. According to Motion Picture Herald, Chaplin sued and won an injunction against Life magazine over the publication of a bootlegged photo picturing Chaplin as the dictator. In 1941, Los Angeles Times reported that writer Konrad Bercovici filed a suit against Chaplin and United Artists for $5,000,000, charging that he had the original idea for the screenplay. Chaplin settled the suit for $90,000 and damages. An article in the New York Times adds that after the film was completed, Chaplin was subpoenaed to testify before a Senate Subcommittee investigating the dissemination of war propaganda in films. The MPAA/PCA Files also contain a letter written to Senator Robert R. Reynolds of the U.S. Committee on Foreign Relations in which the writer, an American citizen, protests against Chaplin, an "alien", using the United States as a sounding to board to air his grievances against a foreign power. The writer warns of international repercussions.
Modern program notes contained in the AMPAS library files report that the sequences of the barber were filmed at 16 frames per second and those of the director at 25 frames per second. The program also adds the following credits: Al Kay (musical librarian); Alex Finlayson (assistant director); Henry Bergman (general assistant); Dick Fritsch (assistant film editor); Rollin Brown (laboratory contact); Ed Boyle (set decorator); Clem Widrig (props); Frank Testera (electrical chief); William Bogdanoff (construction foreman); Eddie Voight (makeup); Frank Veseley (paint department); Oscar Wright (purchasing department). Modern sources also add Gloria DeHaven to the cast.