The Circus (1928)

the circus poster 1928 movie charlie chaplin
9.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 10/10
Visuals: 10/10

Classic Chaplin

So-so story

Movie Info

Movie Name:  The Circus

Studio:  Charles Chaplin Productions

Genre(s):  Comedy/Romance

Release Date(s):  January 6, 1928 (Premiere)/October 8, 1928 (London)/November 16, 1928 (US)

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated

the circus running from police tramp charlie chaplin

Running and getting no where

The cruel ringmaster (Al Ernest Garcia) finds his circus is losing its appeal, but when the Tramp (Charlie Chaplin) injects new life into clown act, he thinks he has a winner.  Unfortunately, the Tramp doesn’t realize he’s the new star of the circus and can only be funny when it is natural.  The Tramp is falling in love with trapeze performer and the ringmaster stepdaughter (Merna Kennedy) but heartbreak can only follow.

Written, directed, and produced by Charlie Chaplin, The Circus is a silent comedy film.  Following The Gold Rush in 1925, the movie was critically acclaimed and a major box office success.  Chaplin was initially nominated for Best Actor but removed for the category to be given a special honorary award for the film.  Chaplin reedited the film in 1967 rereleased The Circus in 1969 with a new score and an opening sequence with him singing “Swing Little Girl” over the opening credits.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered (aka new pics) review of the film (Criterion #996).

the circus charlie chaplin merna kennedy

It’s never going to happen, Tramp

For years it was hard for me to get into silent films.  While they weren’t bad, the pacing and attention needed to be given to them was often more than I could do.  Looking at the films of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd gave me a better background, and it is interesting to see how the three big names played off of each other and changed their craft…and Chaplin’s style and approach is a master class.

The film plays a lot like other Little Tramp movies.  Chaplin is the main character but almost in a way feels secondary by being the tool in which two other characters are ultimately brought together leaving the Little Tramp alone and ultimately heartbroken.  The basic concept of a clown that doesn’t know he’s a clown and everyone is laughing at him is sad in itself, but the failed romance adds to the comedic tragedy.

Chaplin as always is charming but like an actual clown, he always seems to hide his sadness with a smile in his films.  The Tramp is a character, but it is also Chaplin, but it also feels like it is a reflection of everything you hear about the period in which Chaplin arose.  His comedic timing is perfect, but he feels tragic.

the circus charlie chaplin tramp tightrope monkeys

Quit monkeying around!

The circus provides a lot of room for comedy and sight gags for the movie.  The opening sequence with the robbery and the fight in the hall of mirrors plays out perfectly (and continues to amaze me on how filmmakers manage to keep out of the shot when involving so many mirrors).  The clown acts and things like the monkeys and tight rope walk also are classic (but expected) as soon as Chaplin enters the circus life.

The Circus is a solid Charlie Chaplin film and an easier one than some of his other classics.  It is a good “intro to Chaplin” movie in that it feels a little more forward and less subtle than some of his other films like Modern Times (plus, to really enjoy Modern Times, you have to get to know the Tramp before).  Spend a night at The Circus, and enjoy Charlie Chaplin at some of his best.  Chaplin followed The Circus with City Lights in 1931.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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