“Keep him busy and don’t let him know he’s the hit of the show.”
A tramp (Charlie Chaplin) accidentally becomes the hit star in a circus run by a cruel ringmaster (Al Garcia), who pays him the lower wages of a prop-master; meanwhile, he falls in love with Garcia’s abused daughter (Merna Kennedy) — but does she feel the same way about him?
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Carnivals and Circuses
- Charlie Chaplin Films
- Silent Films
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary argues that if this “sweet, deceptively simple, flawless film… doesn’t quite equal other Chaplin masterpieces on first viewing, that’s because it seems that Chaplin didn’t invest it with quite as much emotion” — which is exactly why I find it to be such an underrated gem. Unlike the overly maudlin tenor of many of Chaplin’s other, better-known films, The Circus possesses almost purely comedic energy, with just enough romantic tension and longing to move the narrative along. As Peary notes, “there are [many] wonderful scenes: hungry Chaplin eating a hot dog that a little boy (whose father looks the other way) holds in his hand; Chaplin eluding a pickpocket and a cop in a hall of mirrors; … Chaplin finding himself locked in a cage with a sleeping lion inside and a barking dog outside; Chaplin attempting a tightrope act and having a wild monkey latch its teeth onto his nose”. Other laugh-out-loud scenes include Chaplin posing as part of a mechanized display outside a fun house, and Chaplin’s hilariously failed attempts to officially audition for a role in the circus. It all represents Chaplin’s “usual number of brilliant sight gags and moments of slapstick”, and is simply great fun throughout.
Note: In his Alternate Oscars book, Peary names Chaplin Best Actor of the Year for this film, pointing out that “as usual, Chaplin’s tramp is both touching and funny as he maintains his dignity”, and — thankfully – “doesn’t play for pity”.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Many memorable, expertly crafted scenes
Yes, as an early comedy classic by Chaplin.