Made in 1928 while he was in the middle of a painful divorce case, Charlie Chaplin's The Circus
was so associated with bad memories for its maker that he refused even to mention it in his 1964 autobiography. Consequently, it has enjoyed less of a reputation than such films as The Gold Rush
(1925) and City Lights
(1931). However, while it's not quite in their league, The Circus
undoubtedly deserves to be rescued from relative obscurity.
Here, Chaplin's Tramp is taken on as a clown at the circus, having been chased into the big tent by a policeman wrongly suspected of theft and wowing the audience with his pratfalls. He falls in love with the ill-treated ringmaster's daughter (Merna Kennedy) but is swiftly rivaled by a new addition to the circus, a handsome tightrope walker. To try to win back her affections, the Tramp himself attempts the same act, culminating in the best sequence of the film, when he is assailed by monkeys as he totters amateurishly and precariously along a rope suspended high in the tent. Although The Circus is marred by the rather hackneyed and (even in 1928) stale melodramatic device of the cruel father and imploring daughter, it scores high on its slapstick content, with routines involving a hall of mirrors and a mishap with a magician's equipment demonstrating Chaplin's dazzling ability to choreograph apparently improvised mayhem. --David Stubbs
The Little Tramp brings his slapstick hijinks to the big top. Charlie Chaplin's film "The 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.