Directed by: Charlie Chaplin
Written by: Charlie Chaplin
Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Al Ernest Garcia, Merna Kennedy, Henry Bergman
Special talents get afforded a level of power and leeway others do not receive because of the impact they have on an organization or team. Using this leverage to your advantage can help you get your way and if you care enough about others, you can also advocate for them. In this comedic yet heartwarming The Circus, it shows how one can accidentally reach the apex of a profession in the wildest of ways.
After being wrongfully chased for being a pickpocket the Tramp (Charlie Chaplin) runs into a circus act and accidentally becomes a smash hit. He gets brought onto the team to perform his ridiculous movements. In this troupe, he meets a circus rider (Merna Kennedy), whom he begins to gain feelings for, as he witnesses how her stepfather and ringmaster (Al Ernest Garcia) mistreats her.
Physical comedy and Charlie Chaplin go together like peanut butter and jelly, as they always work under any circumstance. Chaplin has created such sensational pictures where he consistently pushes the boundary of what could be achieved during his era and The Circus adds to the library of his genius. Underseen when compared to his other more celebrated works, he manages to display the same level of comedic brilliance with a touching story to go along with it. Much of the comedy occurring in this film comes from the Tramp attempting to keep this gig at the circus. He has struggled to maintain money, as we find him penniless at the beginning of the film. The opportunity to earn with the group comes as the chance of a lifetime. The unofficial and uninvited audition appears when he attempts to escape the police and then joins the act. He, of course, survives all of the ridiculousness around him.
Keeping up the theatrics becomes the challenge as he discovers the death-defying nature of what it takes to work in a circus. Acts need to continually improve to wow the patrons looking to be entertained. It becomes the gig of a lifetime for him but it might cost a healthy amount of bruises on his body. The accidental nature of his success perfectly sums up this character and how he just walks into situations and simply must react just to survive.
The character of the Tramp poses an interesting look at the way luck plays into Chaplin films. While most of the time this character struggles in his own ways, the Tramp always manages to get lucky in the life and death situations he finds himself in. The Circus provides for the opportunity of the Tramp stepping onto the cage with a tiger. It makes for a horrifying experience for the character but it looks just as dangerous from the viewpoint of the viewer. The moments of tension become palpable as we want to ensure the Tramp does well, but the comedy combines well to remove some of the stakes involved. Much like with all of Chaplin’s silent comedies, the illusion of danger brings so much of the comedy. The near-misses and the precarious circumstances bring the tension of the scenes along with how funny each scene becomes.
Even with the comedy being on full display, Chaplin always tells stories with so much heart and The Circus is no different. Outside of the theatrics of the Tramp, he gets involved in the story of love between two performers, the circus cider and a tight rope walker (Harry Crocker). For all the shenanigans the Tramp gets himself into, he always comes at each situation with a heart of gold and will always defend the honor of those who are being bullied or abused. He gets into constant battles with the ringmaster, who always yells at the circus rider. The impact of his intervention shows how he utilizes his power as the headliner to make demands and help the circus rider from being constantly berated by the ringmaster. The small love triangle happening between the Tramp and the other two gets to the heart of this character. Someone who wants to survive but wants to ensure others around him have some semblance of happiness, even if he cannot share in it.
As funny as heck and still ridiculously charming, The Circus serves as yet another reminder of the brilliance on display whenever Charlie Chaplin steps onto the screen. The stunts and the ridiculous moments become customary with his work, but this time the Tramp joins the circus, which knows how to put people in death-defying circumstances. With all of the craziness happening around him, it lets the sincere story centering the story continue to grow into allowing the Tramp to learn from this circumstance.