The Circus


Action / Comedy / Romance

Rotten Tomatoes Critics - Certified Fresh 100%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience - Upright 94%
IMDb Rating 8.1 10 20338


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October 22, 2011 at 04:11 AM


Charles Chaplin as A Tramp
501.09 MB
23.976 fps
1hr 12 min
P/S 2 / 16

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by ManhattanBeatnik 9 / 10

The Circus (1928)

Charlie Chaplin is a film-maker who isn't given enough credit, in my opinion: sure, people think he's funny, but few seem to recognize the underlying melancholy of his work. In The Circus, our favorite little tramp is running from the law and stumbles upon a carnival, unwittingly becoming the center act and falling in love with a beautiful trapeze artist (Merna Kennedy). Even though this seems like the recipe for a feel-good romantic comedy, in Chaplin's vision, the guy doesn't get the girl. We essentially find ourselves laughing at an unemployed homeless man who needs to make an ass out of himself in order to escape the police -- which is nothing worth laughing at, when you really think about it. Nevertheless, Chaplin created some of the most uproarious scenes in movie history, combining his ingenious slapstick with a genuine humanity that made his character feel like more than just an object of humiliation. The Circus is certainly one of his most under-rated features, showing a darker sense of love and longing than any of his other work: the film opens with a repeated shot of his object of desire swinging on the rings with a forlorn gaze drifting into space. The final shot has the little tramp walking away from the woman he loves, alone: never before (or since) have we so sensed Chaplin's true gloominess. But if I'm making The Circus sound like a serious film, then I've been deceiving you, for it is a very funny movie indeed: Chaplin's gags are innovative and perfectly timed, and he always managed to keep his running time perfectly suited to the audience's interest. Yet in spite of how funny this movie truly is, the parts I remember most are still those that reached a deeper level of human emotion: the scenes between Chaplin and his lover are meant to be comical, but I couldn't help but notice the honesty and poignancy he injected into each vignette. This is as much a romance as it is a comedy -- and a drama, for that matter. It has been said that, two thirds during the shoot of the film, Chaplin had a nervous breakdown; considering the mostly morose tone of the film, that doesn't surprise me. But when film-makers have personal struggles, it typically only increases the authenticity and greatness of their work (just look at Woody Allen's career). Quite simply, The Circus is an American classic: Chaplin not only directed and starred in, but he produced, edited, and even composed original music for his films. His direction is superb -- not only from a comical standpoint, but from a cinematic one as well; one particular scene comes to mind that takes place in a house of mirrors, in which Chaplin uses a repeated set-up to convey a feeling of simultaneous order and confusion. His acting is plain brilliant -- if you can call it acting: he's one of those performers that you watch and smack your head in awe of how extraordinary he is. In a way, The Circus isn't a masterpiece, nor a perfect film, nor even a particularly great one -- but in another way, it is all those things and more. It is a splendid example of just how much can be done within a simple genre movie, and modern film-makers would do themselves a favor by learning from it.

Grade: A

Reviewed by J. Spurlin 10 / 10

A terrific comedy, despite what some may say...

The Little Tramp is chased into a circus tent during a performance; his antics prove funnier than those of the clowns, and the ringmaster hires him for the show.

When a comedian plays a character who is inadvertently hilarious, it can seem narcissistic: just check out Jerry Lewis's "The Errand Boy" where Lewis has his supporting cast praise the comic genius of the character played by Jerry Lewis. Despite this danger, and despite Chaplin's off-screen egotism, the premise plays beautifully, especially since The Little Tramp (though not Chaplin) is such a terrible comedian when he's trying to be one. My favorite moment is when the ringmaster demands the auditioning Tramp to be funny right that instant: the Tramp grins and shyly dances around a bit, gingerly falls down, puts his cane between his legs and meekly lifts himself back up. "Terrible!" roars his would-be employer.

This film has more self-awareness over comedy conventions that any other Chaplin I know of. The Tramp ineptly (but hilariously) performs a couple of standard comedy routines with the other circus clowns. Later, there's a funny twist to the old banana peel gag; and near the end he crashes into an old general store, looking as if he's thrust himself back into his old Keystone days. This is Chaplin's last true silent film, and the Keystone moment feels like a nostalgic farewell to the past.

"The Circus" is funny throughout, but the opening scenes are probably the best. There's a marvelous funhouse sequence and a priceless routine where The Tramp pretends to be a motorized dummy. (Has anyone seen the Swiss clock routine from "Your Show of Shows"?) He also falls in love with the ringmaster's cruelly treated daughter, which leads to a poignant ending.

I enjoyed the music, which Chaplin composed for this film in 1969. His scores are always repetitive; but they're also sweet and funny and they enhance the action. I could have done without the title-sequence song (which he sings himself)—something about looking up at rainbows. Otherwise, this comedy is near-perfect and holds its own against Chaplin's even greater features, "The Gold Rush," "City Lights" and "Modern Times."

Reviewed by ccthemovieman-1 8 / 10

One Of Chaplin's Best; Certainly Underrated

I enjoyed this a lot more the second time when I could see it on a very clear DVD print. I don't know why that would make a difference with the story, but it did as I found it very good for the entire distance, although that's just a scant 69 minutes.

In the story, Charlie Chaplin does his normally-great physical slapstick so well that he accidentally becomes a hit at the circus, which is run by a nasty man (Allan Garcia) who regularly beats his sweet step-daughter, played by a very pretty Merna Kennedy. Charlie, of course, gets smitten by her and comes to her rescue.

This movie has a different kind of ending that what you'd normally see for a comedy but it's inspiring as Chaplin performs a noble deed. (However, Kennedy's character is in question as she seems satisfied to marry either of two men. Huh?)

Chaplin's timing and clever slapstick routines never fail to amaze me. Even though silent films aren't seen by many people these days, it's works of art like this that will endure forever. This is not of one of Chaplin's more famous movies.....but it should be. I think it's one of his best.

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