Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 19
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.


More Flashbacks
December 19, 1977
Jacques Tourneur dies

On this day in 1977, the film world lost of the most creative directors of the Golden Age of Hollywood, when Jacques Tourneur passed away in Bergerac, a town in the south west of France.

Read more »
December 19, 1979
Being There, Sellers' Last Chance

According to director Hal Ashby, the editing of Being There was only finally finished at around 4 a.m. on the first day of its limited Oscar qualifying run, 29 years ago today, and Ashby himself delivered the film to the theatre by hand. The painstaking approach Ashby took with the film, however, translated into rapturous reviews and turned Being There into a financial as well as critical success. The movie was a long-gestating project that Ashby and the film’s star, Peter Sellers, had been planning since 1973 when the Pink Panther star had first shared with Ashby his love of Jerzy Kosinski’s novel about a idiot savant gardener who unintentionally becomes a political heavyweight. Sellers, who was initially seen as too broad a comic actor to play this subtle a role, excelled as Chauncey Gardiner (aka Chance the gardener), the childlike man whose simplistic comments are misinterpreted as ingenious political rhetoric, and garnered the very best reviews of his career and a Best Actor Oscar nod in the process. The film proved the most fitting of swan songs as Sellers died of a heart attack just six months after the film’s release. Being There has since become a classic, not least because of its incisive and gently scornful satire of the American political establishment: during the 1980 election, candidates Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter both tried to paint their opponent as being “like Chauncey Gardiner,” and over the course of the presidency of George W. Bush, numerous comparisons were made between the intelligence of commander in chief and Sellers’ simple-minded comic hero.

Read more »