The Tramp finds himself working at the circus where he meets a beautiful girl.
Written and Directed by – Charles Chaplin
Starring – Al Ernest Garcia, Merna Kennedy, Harry Crocker, George Davis, Henry Bergman, Tiny Sandford, John Rand, Steve Murphy, Charles Chaplin
The Circus came just before Chaplin started steering towards more serious matters with Modern Times or The Great Dictator and it contains some very different moments compared to the films that came before it. The Ringmaster (Al Ernest Garcia) is a particularly cruel villain for The Tramp. He’s a straight up bad guy without the comic leanings of previous characters that The Tramp has faced. Maybe it’s the first sign of Chaplin heading into dramatic territory. Whatever it was, The Circus was one of the most funny Chaplin films I’ve watched. I found myself laughing out loud quite a lot and I wondered if I would wake anyone one up.
There’s some great gags on display, my favorite being The Tramp as a robotic addition to the outside of the hall of mirrors. A pickpocket has hidden his stolen goods in The Tramp’s pocket but when they’re both found by the cops, they take off into a hall of mirrors. It’s a great scene all around so check it out.
After The Tramp has interrupted the circus and the crowd wants to see more of him, The Ringmaster hires him on as a clown. From there we get typical Chaplin material. He always causes more problems than he solves, meets a beautiful girl but can never make her his girl and we watch as he walks off into the sun, alone again.
While this was one of the more funny Chaplin flicks I’ve seen, it lacked a bit of continuity. Sometimes it seems as if it’s been pieced together or edited too heavily. The final scenes of the film come on so quickly that you really feel as if you’ve missed something. The physical comedy on display here was so well done that I can forget all about problems with story. The Tramp messing up the acts in the circus and becoming the star of the show without even knowing it are great. It all builds up to a high wire act that The Tramp gets involved in. The Girl in the circus that The Tramp has fallen for is more interested in Rex, the tight rope walker. When Rex doesn’t show up for one of his performances, The Tramp takes to the wire to impress The Girl.
Madness and monkeys take over the act, which is an impressive piece of film. To have the highly paid star way up in the air on a tightrope seems a dangerous idea. Throw in some monkey’s and you’re asking for trouble. It’s moments like this that always impress me about older films. They didn’t have the advantages that the industry has now. If you needed someone up on the high-wire, you didn’t add them in digitally later. They got up there and did their act. Certainly film making has become a slightly less hands on type of business. Unless the hands are digging for cash in someones pocket.
The Circus isn’t as put together as some of Chaplin’s other films and it doesn’t have the messages of his later films. What it does have are some of the best visual gags I’ve seen in a Chaplin film and anyone looking for an old time laugh should check this one out.
Under the marquee – Will