Saturday, April 14, 2018

THE CHARLIE CHAPLIN BLOGATHON: The Circus (1928)


The Charlie Chaplin Blogathon, The Life and Films of the Little Tramp is hosted by Little Bits of Classic and Christina Wehner on April 14th, 15th and 16th. HERE is where you find the tributes.


The Circus is a moody film in that the audience feels the moods that writer/director/star Charlie Chaplin wants us to feel, from gleeful delight to sudden surprise to pity to affection to melancholy. I know that you can say that about your favourite meticulously created Chaplin film, but I hold it especially true for mine.


Three movie seasons had passed between Chaplin's 1925 The Gold Rush and the release of The Circus. The film has many sunny scenes, but the making of the movie was anything but a happy experience. During the 11-month shooting schedule, Chaplin's mother passed away, his studio burned down, legal issues arose relating to his divorce from Lita Grey, and the IRS demanded one million dollars in back taxes. Is it any wonder his hair turned white?


The Tramp is broke and hungry. Perhaps a way can be found to alleviate his situation at the Circus Sideshow. Laugh-out-loud encounters with a baby, the baby's lunch, a pickpocket and the attempt to put that criminal's ill-gotten-gone to good use, and various ways of eluding a cop occur in this environment.


Charlie leads law enforcement on a merry chase through the circus tent that is his introduction to the people of this world and a new life for the Tramp. The owner and ringmaster played by Al Ernest Garcia is a tough taskmaster to all of his employees, but is particularly rough on his stepdaughter, a bareback rider played by Merna Kennedy. The poor girl is even denied food when things go wrong in her act.


The Tramp has become one of the clowns in the troupe and is a hit with the crowds. The ringmaster keeps the Tramp's popularity as a performer a secret so he can use him as an underpaid props man.


The Tramp and the girl form a bond of friendship that becomes much more on the part of our hero. They share their hopes and their dreams. The Tramp longs to impress his love and become more than a mere clown. Merna supports the Tramp by letting him know how important he is to the success of the circus and encouraging his attempts at a new act.


We are brought to gasps and laughs when the Tramp attempts his tightrope walk routine. He is determined to compete with Rex, a new performer at the circus played by Harry Crocker. Merna and Rex are attracted to each other and the Tramp is jealous. The Tramp had concocted a plan with a props man to manipulate a harness so the Tramp would be safe in the air. In the middle of his routine, the harness breaks and then monkeys attack!

Charlie mastered the skill of tightrope walking to the point of being able to travel the rope placed at 40 feet in the air. The footage had to be shot twice for these scenes as the original negative was found to be scratched.


The Tramp's heart is about to be broken, but he can't help but see how happy Merna and Rex are together. Rex is also in a position to protect Merna as the Tramp had never been. On the day the couple is married, the Tramp is their supportive friend. The circus stars assert their independence with the ringmaster, creating a new environment for the workplace/home. The happy couple has the complete expectation that their friend, the Tramp, will contiue to be one of them.


Life in the circus is no longer what the Tramp envisioned and what he wants. There is no goodbye as The Tramp heads off to whatever life next holds in store. It is a lovely, poignant, perfect ending.


The Circus runs for one hour and twelve minutes, and every one of those minutes is a delight of cynical laughter, sentimental romance, and thrilling stunts. My most recent viewing of The Circus was a theatrical one in December of last year. The Chaplin Estate insists that screenings of the film include their recorded score. In this instance, I did not miss the live accompaniment which usually accompanies Silent Revue screenings because Chaplin knew what worked best for him and his films. The audience responded to The Circus with much laughter and affectionate applause.




"All images from Chaplin films made from 1918 onwards, Copyright (c) Roy Export S.A.S. Charles Chaplin and the Little Tramp are trademarks and/or service marks of Bubbles Inc. S.A. and/or Roy Export."









14 comments:

  1. Beautiful review! It certainly sounds like a rough time for Chaplin, but amazing at how he could still make us all laugh.

    I'm trying not to be jealous that you saw Circus in a theater! I've never actually seen any Chaplin films on anything but the small screen. Do you think the comedy comes off differently when seen on the large screen? It must have been electric to see it with so many other fans.

    So glad you could join the Chaplin blogathon!

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    1. I think the theatre experience really explains (is that what I mean?) Chaplin's appeal and success. At home, I tend to study him, but out in public I simply enjoy him.

      Thank you for hosting. I wouldn't have missed it!

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    2. Ah, that is interesting. I think I understand what you mean. Do you think it is partly the larger crowd, then, that has the effect, or the larger screen or both?

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    3. I would have to say it is both. I notice things on the big screen that were invisible on TV viewings. Little things seem more important. I find I feed off of the crowd and their enjoyment.

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  2. I agree that The Circus has a perfect ending - and, after all, the Tramp's next adventure was in City Lights! Beautiful write-up about one of the most underrated Chaplin movies.
    Thanks for the kind comment!
    Kisses!

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    1. Thanks so much. We have got to get together and watch a movie one of these days.

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  3. I'm embarrassed to say that I have never seen THE CIRCUS. Your review, plus the background leading up to the production, made for interesting reading. I was pleased to find THE CIRCUS on YouTube, but am jealous that you got to watch it on the big screen with the Chaplin estate-approved score!

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    1. Ultimately, we're lucky that movie fans are so happy to share on YouTube. I will hold onto the hope that someday you will get to share that big screen experience as well.

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  4. A lovely post. This film kind of breaks my heart every time and that ending is only possibly surpassed by City Lights. The score is also memorable. I guess everything about Chaplin during those years is memorable.

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    1. Thank you. I agree with your thoughts on the movie. Charlie seemed to be bursting with creativity. It shows in the way we still react to his work today.

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  5. Was there nothing Charlie Chaplin couldn't do? He learned to walk the tightrope for this film? Now, that's just showing off.

    I can't imagine making a film with all of those issues in his personal life. (How did he manage to get out of BED in the morning?) It's one more proof that Chaplin became a legend for good reason, and deserves to be a legend even today.

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    1. Legend fits Chaplin like a glove.

      You made me laugh. I'm going to start calling him Charlie the Show-off. In the nicest sense, of course.

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  6. Love 'The Circus'! As always Chaplin offers as a beautiful film with amazing depth of emotion, I've only seen it via DVD and would love to see it on the big screen - as we ultimately should see it. Thanks so much for your review!

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    1. We fans of The Circus form a mighty powerful group. Our combined laughter should cure the world of its ills. Ah, if only.

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