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The Tramp (Charlie Chaplin) finds himself at the circus, broke and hungry; an incident with a pickpocket almost lands him in jail, but his escape from the law leads him to even more risky business as a stand in for circus acts. The ringmaster’s daughter catches his eye, but this potential romance is also fraught with problems.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The early scenes around the side shows of the circus in which The Tramp, broke and hungry, finds himself in a melee with a pickpocket and the police is classic stuff. The pickpocket palms a stolen wallet on him to avoid his victim’s wrath. But while trying to regain the wallet from Charlie’s back pocket, he’s caught redhanded by an alert officer. Charlie is nonplussed but takes the wallet as his, until the pickpocket escapes from the law and chases him. They end up in the house of mirrors, superbly used for this comic routine, before running out, the law still in pursuit. (And the camera is never seen in the mirrors.)

This is when Charlie pretends to be one of the automated figures on the balcony of the building, which is mimicked to this day by a handful of Chaplin-alikes on the Croisette at the Cannes Film Festival (and no doubt elsewhere). 

But that’s just the beginning in what is a high energy series of pratfalls devised around the various attractions at the circus, climaxing with a beautifully conceived and hilarious routine when he has to stand in for the tightrope walker. 

The romance that The Tramp hopes for with the ringmaster’s pretty daughter is used as the sentimental element, and he works it through with a combination of humour and pathos. It’s a film of great entertainment value, recognised at the very first Academy Awards in 1929 with a special statuette “for versatility and genius in writing, directing and producing The Circus”.

Ironically, it was made during the most difficult time of his personal life when Lita was suing for divorce and threatening to take all his assets – including perhaps the negative. Production stalled for eight months and Chaplin had to edit it covertly. All this and more is recounted in David Robinson’s 5-minute introduction, which starts the special features on Disc 2. The deleted scenes and outtakes are worth a look, as are the various other items like the Hollywood Premiere at Grauman’s cinema: there are circus animal sculptures, fat ladies and tallest men, gorillas and performing dogs, clowns and horses and acrobats - all part of the hype. Among the audience on the red carpet are W.C Fields, Cecil B de Mille and Charlie himself, of course. You can see how that sort of movie event was born.

My only complaint is that this material is hidden, along with the 3D test and A&B camera footage – in a section called Documents. The 3D test is of course not in 3D and so it’s a tad dull, and the A&B camera piece is a bit of novelty of no great fascination. But the excerpts of Circus Day with Jackie Coogan undescore how far the restoration of the Chaplin Collection has taken the work of making these Chaplin films accessible. By comparison, the un-restored films are almost unwatchable.

The work of the Collection is certainly valuable historically, but also for extending the life of Chaplin’s films into the digital age and thus making it available and enjoyable for generations to come.

Published March 18, 2004

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The Circus



(US, 1928)

CAST: Charlie Chaplin, Allan Garcia, Merna Kenedy, Harry Crocker, George Davis, Henry Bergman

DIRECTOR: Charlie Chaplin

SCRIPT: Charlie Chaplin

RUNNING TIME: 68 minutes

PRESENTATION: Disc 1: B/W; 1.33:1 (4:3 full frame transfer); DD 5.1 (remastered)

SPECIAL FEATURES: Disc 2: Introduction by David Robinson; Chaplin Today: The Circus –documentary; deleted scenes; outtakes; Mountbatten home movies; Hollywood Premiere; Camera A & B simultaneous shots; 3D test footage; Circus Day with Jackie Coogan; photos; trailers, posters


DVD RELEASE: March 17, 2004

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