The Circus (1928) Director: Sir Charles Chaplin
The Circus is a delightful film, reprising Chaplin’s famous “Tramp” character. In truth, it was one of the hardest movies Chaplin ever made. During the filming, his mother died, there were numerous scheduling delays, a studio fire, a bitter divorce from his second wife, Lita Grey, he suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of his ex-wife’s public accusations of infidelity and sexual perversion, and the IRS claimed Chaplin owed back taxes. All of which stalled the production for eight months. It was the third highest grossing silent film of all time.
At the outset, the Tramp stumbles onto the circus after avoiding the police in an amusing robbery mix-up. The ringleader, who is headstrong and abusive, gives the Tramp an audition when he accidentally steals the show, however his audition ends in disaster when the ringleader kicks him out. Again, he steals the show when trying to be a stage hand, but he befriends the circus rider and sneaks her food behind the back of the ringleader. He overhears her fortune being told and assumes she has fallen for the tightrope walker. His next few performances were dismal until he is sent out in the tightrope walker’s place. At the end, he finds Rex the tightrope walker and brings him back to the circus to marry the circus rider, preventing her from being abused by the ringleader. As the circus travels away, the Tramp is left alone with a small remnant of the circus. He crinkles it up and throws it away as he walk off into the distance.
All throughout the twenties Chaplin had been discussing a film about the circus. Although he won a special Academy Award at the 1st Academy Awards ceremony and the film received positive reviews and fanfare, he never remembered the film fondly, omitting it from his autobiography and struggling to record an official score in his later.
The Circus is a wonderful film filled with humor and melancholy. It is quite possibly my favorite Chaplin film, and one of the great films of the 1920s that is an enduring example of the importance of the silent era.