Review: The Circus (1928)

the circus

I’ve watched a lot of movies about the circus lately, maybe the world is trying to tell me something!

Written By: Charles Chaplin
Directed By: Charles Chaplin

The Circus is two very different films. On the one hand it’s a metaphor for the career of Charles Chaplin. On the other hand its a slapstick comedy of the highest order. There are romantic elements, but the romance in The Circus takes a backseat to metaphor and comedy. The metaphor never overtakes the comedy, and the comedy never smothers the metaphor out of existence. Mr. Chaplin shows fine form as a director, blending metaphor and comedy into one splendid motion picture.

The aforementioned metaphor is one I had to think on for some amount of time. I thought there was more to The Circus than being just a straight up comedy, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what that was. Then I did some reading about how Mr. Chaplin chose to score the film and the metaphor came to me. Some further reading revealed I am by no means the first person to come up with this metaphor, so no quack house for me this time around. Either way, The Circus is the story of Charles Chaplin’s life in film up until 1928. He enters the circus by accident, and he almost bumbles his way into refining the way that the circus presents its comedy. He’s forced to pass up on the girl, and he is left behind as the circus moves on to new and, supposedly, better things. That describes Mr. Chaplin’s career in the films to a T, the only thing missing is the bookend where the tramp catches back up to the circus and wows a few more times before the circus finally leaves him in the dust yet again. The metaphor in The Circus is strong, but it’s never heavy handed, and it’s always handled in a poignant fashion.

The comedy in The Circus is, well, funny. Mr. Chaplin is on fire as the Tramp, making me chuckle throughout the film. The audition sequence where the Tramp has to fail at being funny was hilarious and showed how skilled Mr. Chaplin is as a director and an actor. In that sequence he’s deliberately trying to be unfunny and yet that’s when the Tramp is at his funniest. The rest of the film is what I like to call chuckle level funny. I didn’t laugh out loud or lose control of myself because I was laughing so hard. But, I was consistently chuckling, and I had a smile on my face for every minute of The Circus.

With The Circus Mr. Chaplin was nearing the end of his run as a silent film star. That wasn’t due to any of his own doing, if the silent era had not ended the Tramp would have continued to be funny for years to come. The Circus is proof of that, it’s a film that is cognizant of the place of the Tramp in the changing film landscape. It is witty, intelligent, knowing, and funny all the same. I had soured on Charles Chaplin thanks to his lackluster talkie work. A movie like The Circus reminded me of how great Charles Chaplin was in the silent era. The Circus made me laugh, it made me think, and it made me fall in love with Mr. Chaplin all over again.




2 responses to “Review: The Circus (1928)

  1. Excellent post! I always thought the tightrope scene was hilarious (especially when the monkey pops up to make things worse). I actually recall reading a bad review of this many years back and wondered if the writer was even watching the same film…

  2. Thanks, it’s another great Chaplin silent film, which isn’t all that surprising actually. 🙂

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