johnlink ranks THE CIRCUS (1928)

Another Chaplin feature showed up on TCM this past week, so I ate it right up like I do all Chaplin (or Keaton) features I have never had a chance to see. This one is set at a circus as the Tramp accidentally becomes the star of the show and tries to win the abusive Ringmaster’s daughter. Believe it or not, there will be SPOILERS below.

I watched THE CIRCUS (1928) on 10.1.11. It was my first viewing of the film.

The film opens up with credits interrupted by the moving image of a lonely looking circus girl (our ingenue) swinging on the high rings. Nothing major when looked upon by today’s viewer. However, I don’t recall many films of that era breaking the middle of the opening credits to foreshadow the story. Add in that the credits, along with this image, are rolling over a song being sung by Charlie Chaplin in a time when recorded vocal music was rare in film, and I was impressed before this thing even got started.

There were issues on this production. The circus set burnt down and had to rebuilt, Chaplin was experiencing mental issues which forced him to take a break, and the result was a disjointed shoot. You can see that evidenced in the plot, as this film doesn’t have the grand scope of, say, MODERN TIMES. Despite that, this is a thoroughly entertaining film. There are a half dozen classic Chaplin moments, including the first accidental circus performance, a scene set in a lion’s cage, and another on top of a tight rope.

The father in this is blatantly abusive to his daughter in a way which would not be tolerated by modern day protagonists. The daughter is denied food if she slightly fudges a trick. She is physically beaten in front of Chaplin a handful of times before he bothers to do anything about it. Because the beatings are shot in a frantic and unrealistic way, it is easy to look past them in this comedy. However, the deeper thematic issues are a little troubling.

The writing is probably this movie’s weakest asset. The disjointed filming created a disjointed experience. A moment on a tight rope, while amazing to watch, also induces a rolling of the eyes because we are supposed to accept that the circus audience can’t see a wire The Tramp is using to prevent him from dying. The classic part of this scene happens once the wire is ‘accidentally’ detached.

The ending however, is a revelation. I did not expect it to end as sadly as it does. The Tramp spends much time attempting to woo this girl as a new performer comes in. When Chaplin is ultimately fired, the girl chases after him, asking him to take her with him. The Tramp realizes he cannot give her a good life, so he goes and gets the rival potential lover and convinces him to marry the girl. They then ask Charlie to come with them, to live with the circus, and he seems to agree. But as the caravan pulls away, he hops up and walks in the opposite direction, thus elevating the Tramp to an extremely selfless place he rarely goes throughout his adventures on film.

Glad I found this one. Certainly not the very best of Chaplin, but absolutely an entertaining and fulfilling joy.





~ by johnlink00 on October 2, 2011.

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