The Circus (1928, Charlie Chaplin)

Watched the DVD version – the reissue with Chaplin’s score and a little song he sings over the opening titles. This came between The Gold Rush and City Lights, same year as Steamboat Bill Jr. and The Cameraman, Lloyd’s Speedy, and the first Laurel & Hardy shorts.

Cute movie. Katy liked it because she knew exactly how long it would be. Charlie/Tramp has a run-in with a thief, ends up with a rich dude’s wallet. Chased by cops through a funhouse (featuring the hall of mirrors), runs right into a lame, tired circus and makes the audience laugh for the first time in the show. Hired by the ringmaster (the steel company president in Modern Times) as a clown, but does the routines just as sadly as everyone else, only funny when he doesn’t mean to be – so he stays on as a prop guy while secretly the hit of the show. Meanwhile, ringmaster’s daughter (Merna Kennedy, who retired 6 years later when she married Busby Berkeley), object of affection (and parental abuse), falls for the tightrope walker (played by Chaplin’s assistant director). Charlie does a tightrope act of his own (involving monkeys!) to impress the girl, but when they’re both fired he hooks her up with the tightrope guy in order to get her accepted back into the circus, then Charlie lets it ride off to the next town without him. My favorite bits involved CC trapped in a lion cage, and pretending to be an automaton conking the thief in the head to avoid police.

Movie won an honorary “versatility and genius” award at the first Oscar ceremony.

Three from A. Vanneman:

1. “The darkness and despair that are the flip side of the artificial glamour and gaiety of the circus have been a potent symbol in art at least as far back as the haunted pierrots of Watteau. The classic film version is the classic of classics, The Children of Paradise. The fifties brought more treatises on three-ring existential despair, Bergman’s Sawdust and Tinsel and Fellini’s La Strada.”

2. “The shots of a 38-year-old Chaplin 40 feet off the ground with no net and no wire are not faked.”

3. “The Circus is the only Chaplin feature that has an unhappy ending.”

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