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The Circus (1928) starring Charlie Chaplin

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The Circus, produced & directed by Charlie Chaplin. Starring Charlie Chaplin, Merna Kennedy, Al Garcia, Harry Crocker, Henry Bergman

Synopsis of Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus:

The Circus is one of the Little Tramp’s most poignant roles, as well as one of  Charlie Chaplin’s funniest silent movies — €” for which he won a special Oscar. It begins with the Tramp attending a small circus that comes to town. He haphazardly bumps into a pickpocket, who hides his ill-gotten goods in the Tramp’s pocket. This soon leads to a marvelous chase, with the police chasing both the pickpocket and the Tramp. At one point the pickpocket and the Tramp are running in parallel …. And the Tramp politely tips his hat to the thief. After a chase through the hall of mirrors (which has to be seen). The Tramp accidentally runs into the circus’ center ring, where he is unintentionally hilarious. The circus owner/ringmaster auditions the Tramp as a new clown. Only to find out that he can’t be funny on purpose — €” only unintentionally.

The little tramp at the circus

The Circus — €“ now that the door’s unlocked, Charlie Chaplin bravely approaches the lion — €” until it roars!

Undeterred, the owner hires the Tramp as a menial worker, who is maneuvered into the ring at each show. Along with a mule that apparently has a grudge against the Tramp. Eventually, the love interest (Merna Kennedy as the owner’s abused daughter) falls for another man. In one of the Tramp’s most poignant screen moments, the Tramp gives the engagement ring he had bought for himself to his rival, who is truly loved by Merna. The newlywed couple insists that the Tramp continue with the circus; the Tramp agrees, but sits quietly watching the rest of the circus leave — €” only to leave the other way.

The circus scenery is to put to good, hilarious use as Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp spends time in the lion’s cage, on the high wire accosted by monkeys, and other fine touches. This is probably Charlie Chaplin’s most underrated film, and one of his funniest.

Quotes from Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus:

Merna : I’ve run away from the circus.

Notes on Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus:

  • Premiere included live stage prologue written by Joseph Plunkett.
  • Final Chaplin film of the silent era. He would make two more “silent” films, bucking the trend towards sound. However both City Lights (1931) and Modern Times (1936) would nonetheless include significant compromises to incorporate sound.
  • Chaplin’s studio burnt down during production. This, combined with a number of major personal issues that arose during production, led to Chaplin’s nervous breakdown. He spent time recovering in New York after about two-thirds of the film had been shot.
  • Chaplin practiced tightrope walking for weeks before filming. He actually performed on a rope forty feet in the air. However, the footage was lost when the negative was scratched during processing. The scene had to be re-shot. The footage included in the film was not as good as that which had been lost, in Chaplin’s opinion.
  • In the 1969 re-issue, the 80-year-old Chaplin sang the title song, Swing, Little Girl which he also composed.
  • Because of the problems with the film, not the film itself, Chaplin did not mention it once in his autobiography. But, five years after his autobiography was released, Chaplin re-issued it for the first time in forty-one years.
  • Is the only of Charlie Chaplin’s feature films not to be mentioned in his autobiography.

Editorial review of The Circus | Charlie Chaplin | Merna Kennedy | DVD review, courtesy

The Little Tramp brings his slapstick hijinks to the big top. Charlie Chaplin’s film — €œThe Circus — € begins in a fading circus, where the equestrienne (Merna Kennedy) can’t jump the hoops and the clowns can’t make the audience laugh. Outside on the midway, The Little Tramp falls into a series of wonderful comic routines that end when, pursued by a cop, he bursts into the tent’s center ring and wows the audience. The circus owner/ringmaster (Allan Garcia) auditions The Little Tramp as a clown but discovers he is only funny when he isn’t trying. He tricks The Little Tramp into joining the circus as a prop man who wreaks havoc with whatever he does and who unknowingly becomes the star of the show

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