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Chaplin’s The Great Dictator might be the most popular, but it was The Three Stooges who first openly mocked Hitler on film

Martin Chalakoski

“Any resemblance between the characters in this picture and any persons, living or dead, is a miracle.”

This is how it all started. With a spoof disclaimer shown to the audience on January 19, 1940, right before the opening credits of “You Nazty Spy!”. The 44th short film of the classic slapstick comedy series “The Three Stooges,” is now considered one of the best ever. In it, Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Curly Howard, for the first time in movie history, openly mocked Adolf Hitler and his wrongdoings. This was at the very start of World War 2, before the “final solution” and the Holocaust, when America was still neutral to the war.

In 1941, almost a year before the Nazis started with the mass execution of Jewish prisoners at concentration camps built around Europe, Columbia Pictures made a brave decision and released the episode in spite of the Motion Picture Production Code which clearly prohibited the display of political and satirical messages onscreen.

Shorts apparently weren’t given such strict attention in the belief that they were not so influential, and this satire of the Nazis, the Third Reich, and dictatorships, in general, managed to slip under the radar. In those days people in the states and the US government were still divided, so senators who were pro-isolation and neutral regarding the war such as Burton Wheeler and Gerald Nye strongly objected to many Hollywood films. Their logic was that such movies were just mere anti-Nazi propaganda stories solely produced to mobilize the public for war and had no place in America’s theaters.

The Stooges in 1937

The Stooges in 1937

For instance, Chaplin’s famous “The Great Dictator” had that same exact treatment and faced with so many political and production based obstacles it was very unclear whether the movie would ever make it to the big screen. Fortunately enough, a short one did, and by forever shifting the public opinion on those important issues with its utter brilliance made way for what might be the greatest speech in movie history.

On October 15, 1940, and several months after the official release of “You Nazty Spy!”, Chaplin presented his first talking film “The Great Dictator” in New York, in which he portrayed a character deeply inspired by Adolf Hitler. By getting him to talk at the very end, Charlie intentionally killed (artistically speaking) his up until that moment much admired mute Little Tramp that made him famous in the first place to make a strong political statement against fascism.

Charlie Chaplin as Hynkel the Dictator of Tomania in the film The Great Dictator

Charlie Chaplin as Hynkel the Dictator of Tomania in the film The Great Dictator

Anyhow, back to “You Nazty Spy! where Moe Hailstone, Curly Gallstone, and Larry Pebble played by Moe (Moses) Howard, Curly (Jerome) Howard and Larry Fine respectively, being dumb enough to follow orders, are given the opportunity to be the leaders of the fictional country of Moronica. At the very beginning, three prominent businessmen and representatives of the firearms industry, genuinely upset about their lack of profit, conspire to stage a war and institute a dictator instead of the peace-loving king, Herman the Sixth and Seven-Eights.

They presume that peace is not a global policy that’s good for business.

With this in mind, in the midst of the conversation and with no hesitation whatsoever, one of them, Ixnay played by Richard Fiske, recommends the wallpaper hangers currently working in his home. Thus, the stooges are in play.

Larry Fine, Moe Howard and Curly Howard in Disorder in the Court (1936), one of three frequently telecast Stooges shorts in the public domain.

Larry Fine, Moe Howard and Curly Howard in Disorder in the Court (1936), one of three frequently telecast Stooges shorts in the public domain.

Shortly after, they appoint Moe as the leader and dictator of Moronica in such hilarious fashion that the scene is now thought to be one of the best character introductions of all time.

While being told what dictators do in order to persuade him to take the role (makes love to beautiful women, drinks champagne, gives promises to people while not delivering anything in return), Moe, considering the proposal, reaches for his upper lip, accidentally stamps himself with a sticky paper toothbrush mustache, and accepts the proposal with immense pleasure.

The Stooges with Shemp (center) from 1949’s Malice in the Palace.

The Stooges with Shemp (center) from 1949’s Malice in the Palace.

In the same scene, Curly is given the role of Field Marshal (Hermann Göring) and Larry is appointed as Minister of Propaganda (Joseph Goebbels). With this, the story is set, and the comedy trio start their dictatorship, mimicking real life events enriched with funny and ridiculous scenes in between.

For instance, in one scene Hailstone (Adolf Hitler) is giving a speech to the masses, Larry is instructed to display written signs to the audience reading “CHEERS” and “APPLAUSE.”

You Nazty Spy!”, very well written and masterfully acted out, in only 20 minutes managed to criticize Adolf Hitler and his Nazi propaganda while simultaneously publicizing the world threat of his dictatorship in a period when the United States were still neutral about the war. It is now considered as one of the most influential movie pieces ever made, and one that raised people’s awareness when it was needed the most, while at the same time inspiring many others to speak freely on the silver screen and do the same.

Read another story from us: Charlie Chaplin allegedly entered a Chaplin look-alike contest and lost

Later, the producers having witnessed its success, on July 11, 1941, released a sequel with the same trio, named I’ll Never Heil Again.” In the same manner, the movie opens with a very similar disclaimer that reads:

“Any characters resembling real persons are purely coincidental, and are probably better off dead.”