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 films such 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 rivalled by a new addition to the circus, a handsome tightrope walker. To try to win back her affections the Tramp 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.
On the DVD: The Circus features a generous trove of extras on this two-disc set, including extracts from Lord Mountbatten's home movies of Chaplin, a deleted scene involving a prankster prize-fighter, as well as original footage showing how the perfectionist Chaplin would shoot and reshoot scenes. An introduction from David Robinson explains the adverse circumstances which held up the shooting of The Circus, including a fire and gales, which destroyed the set, while a further documentary delves into Chaplin's earliest work to provide context for the film. On the first disc, the film itself is an excellent transfer. --David Stubbs
Classic Collection Box Set, including DVD, CD, Senitype And Stills