A look back at this day in film history
December 01
October 15, 1940
The Great Comedian

More than a year before America entered World War II, Charlie Chaplin released The Great Dictator, a film that the next day, on October 16, the New York Times critic Bosley Crowther raved “turns out to be a truly superb accomplishment by a truly great artist –– and, from one point of view, perhaps the most significant film ever produced.” As Chaplin’s first talkie, The Great Dictator also turned out to be his most commercial film. Chaplin stars as both a Jewish barber and a fascist dictator named Adenoid Hynkel, a joke that played off the historically recognized resemblance between Chaplin and Hitler. Indeed radio comedian Tommy Handley had previously performed a joke song “Who is This Man (Who Looks like Charlie Chaplin)” on his BBC show. The Nazis had long had Chaplin in their own sights, naming him "a disgusting Jewish acrobat” in their 1934 booklet The Jews Are Looking at You. While Chaplin had supposedly received secret encouragement from President Roosevelt for the project, Hollywood itself kept its distance, frightened of Germany’s possible response. But after its popular reception, their tune changed. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, and led the way for other anti-Nazi comedies, most notably Ernst Lubitsch’s 1942 To Be or Not to Be. Years later, however, Chaplin himself wondered in My Autobiography, if he could had made the same film had he known the real depth of Nazi atrocities.

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December 1, 1935
Woody Allen Born

In 1935, Nettie and Martin Konigsberg welcomed their new son Allen Stewart into the world. Second generation German Jewish emigrants, the family moved from the lower East Side to Brooklyn where Nettie worked as a bookkeeper and Martin as an engraver and waiter.

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December 1, 1983
Scarface Returns

It was nippy New York City winter night when such stars as Melanie Griffith, Raquel Welch, Cher, Lucille Ball, and Eddie Murphy came out for the premiere of Scarface. Dedicated to Ben Hecht and Howard Hawks, Brian De Palma’s film updated those two men’s 1932 movie about a megalomaniacal Chicago gangster (aka Al Capone) into a nightmarish spin on the American dream as a Cuban exile rises to take over the illegal drug trade in Miami. Producer Martin Bregman had imagined the remake in early 1980 as star vehicle for Al Pacino. Bergman hired Oliver Stone (who was himself dealing with a cocaine addiction at the time) to write the script. When De Palma read it, he dropped out of directing Flashdance to take over the production. He wanted to rewrite the rules of noir with this film. Instead of the dark, rain-soaked streets of early gangster films, De Palma shot the violence under the bright, unapologetic South Florida sunshine––although in truth the film production took place in Los Angeles. When it came out, the film was not the runaway hit that everyone had hoped for. Critics were lukewarm, and box office was respectable but not boffo. Overtime, however, the film became a phenomenon all its own. Adopted by Latino and African-American youth as the patron saint of crime, Scarface became an icon. His catchphrases, like “say ‘elllo to my little friend,” graced t-shirts, bumper stickers, tennis shoes, cups and posters. His story was reincarnated in video games, rap lyrics and a short-lived TV show. His spirit continues to speak to generation after generation of outsiders looking in on the American dream from the ghetto or beyond the border. As Ken Tucker, the author of Scarface Nation puts it, “Scarface absorbs ridicule and overexposure and just keeps on going."

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