The Circus (film)

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The Circus
Chalincircus2b.jpg
Original US poster
Directed by Charles Chaplin
Produced by Charles Chaplin
Written by Charles Chaplin
Starring Charles Chaplin
Al Ernest Garcia
Merna Kennedy
Henry Bergman
Music by Charles Chaplin
Distributed by United Artists
Release date(s) January 6, 1928 (1928-01-06)
Running time 70 minutes
Country United States
Language Silent film
English intertitles

The Circus is a 1928 silent film written and directed by Charlie Chaplin with Joseph Plunkett as an uncredited writer. The film stars Chaplin, Al Ernest Garcia, Merna Kennedy, Harry Crocker, George Davis and Henry Bergman. The ringmaster of an impoverished circus hires Chaplin's Little Tramp as a clown, but discovers that he can only be funny unintentionally, not on purpose.

The production of the film was the most difficult experience in Chaplin's career. Numerous problems and delays occurred, including a studio fire, the death of Chaplin's mother, as well as Chaplin's bitter divorce from his second wife Lita Grey, and the Internal Revenue Service's claims of Chaplin's owed back taxes, all of which culminated in filming being stalled for eight months.[1] The Circus was the seventh highest grossing silent film in cinema history[2] taking in more than $3.8 million in 1928.

Plot[edit]

At a circus midway, the penniless and hungry Tramp (Chaplin) is mistaken for a pickpocket and chased by both the police and the real crook (the latter having stashed a stolen wallet and watch in the Tramp's pocket to avoid detection). Running away, the Tramp stumbles into the middle of a performance and unknowingly becomes the hit of the show.

The ringmaster/proprietor of the struggling circus gives him a tryout the next day, but the Tramp fails miserably. However, when the property men quit because they have not been paid, he gets hired on the spot to take their place. Once again, he inadvertently creates comic mayhem during a show. The ringmaster craftily hires him as a poorly paid property man.

The Tramp befriends Merna (Kennedy), a horse rider who is treated badly by her ringmaster stepfather. She later informs the Tramp that he is the star of the show, forcing the ringmaster to pay him accordingly. With the circus thriving because of him, the Tramp also is able to secure better treatment for Merna.

After overhearing a fortune teller inform Merna that she sees "love and marriage with a dark, handsome man who is near you now", the overjoyed Tramp buys a ring from another clown. Alas for him, she meets Rex (Crocker), the newly hired tightrope walker. The Tramp eavesdrops as she rushes to tell the fortune teller that she has fallen in love with the new man. With his heart broken, the Tramp is unable to entertain the crowds. After several poor performances, the ringmaster warns him he has only one more chance.

When Rex cannot be found for a performance, the ringmaster (knowing that the Tramp has been practicing the tight rope act in hopes of supplanting his rival) sends the Tramp out in his place. Despite a few mishaps, including several mischievous escaped monkeys, he manages to survive the experience. However, when he sees the ringmaster slapping Merna around afterward, he beats the man and is fired.

Merna runs away to join him. The Tramp finds and brings Rex back with him to marry Merna. The trio go back to the circus. The ringmaster starts berating his stepdaughter, but stops when Rex informs him that she is his wife. When the traveling circus leaves, the Tramp remains behind. He picks himself up and starts walking jauntily away.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

Chaplin first began discussing his ideas for a film about a circus as early as 1920.[3] In late 1925, he returned from New York to California and began working on developing the film at Charlie Chaplin Studios. Set designer Danny Hall sketched out Chaplin's early ideas for the film, with Chaplin returning to one of his older films, The Vagabond (1916), and drawing upon similar story ideas and themes for The Circus.[4] Chaplin was a long time admirer of French comedian Max Linder, who had died in October, 1925, and often borrowed gags and plot devices from Linder's films. Some critics have pointed out the similarities between The Circus and Linder's last completed film The King of the Circus[5]

Filming[edit]

Filming began on January 11, 1926 and the majority was completed by November.[6][7] After the first month of filming, it was discovered that the film negative had been scratched; restoration work was able to eventually adjust the negative.[8] A major fire broke out at Chaplin's studios in September, delaying production for a month.[8][9] Chaplin was served with divorce papers by Lita Grey in December, and litigation delayed the release of the film for another year.

Release[edit]

The Circus finally premiered in New York City on January 6, 1928, at the Strand Theatre,[10] and in Los Angeles on January 27 at Grauman's Chinese Theatre.[11] It came right at the beginning of the sound film era,[12] with the very first feature sound film, The Jazz Singer (1927), having been released just months earlier.

Chaplin composed a new score for the film in 1967, and this new version of the film (see below) was copyrighted in 1968 (to "The Roy Export Company Establishment") and released in 1969/70.

Reception[edit]

The Circus was well received by audiences and critics, and while its performance at the box office was good, it earned less than The Gold Rush (1925).[13] Many critics consider it and The Gold Rush to be Chaplin's two best comedies.[14]

Analysis[edit]

Film historian Jeffrey Vance views The Circus as an autobiographical metaphor:

He joins the circus and revolutionizes the cheap little knockabout comedy among the circus clowns, and becomes an enormous star. But by the end of the movie, the circus is packing up and moving on without him. Chaplin's left alone in the empty circus ring... It reminds me of Chaplin and his place in the world of the cinema. The show is moving on without him. He filmed that sequence four days after the release of The Jazz Singer (the first successful talkie) in New York. When he put a score to The Circus in 1928, Chaplin scored that sequence with "Blue Skies", the song Jolson had made famous, only Chaplin played it slowly and sorrowfully, like a funeral dirge.[15]

Musical rescoring[edit]

In 1947, Hanns Eisler worked on music for the film. Eisler then used the music he composed for his Septet No. 2 ("Circus") for flute and piccolo, clarinet in B flat, basson, and string quartet. Eisler's sketch of scene sequences and rhythms is in the Hans Eisler Archive in Berlin.[16]

In 1967, Chaplin composed a new musical score for the film and a recording of him singing "Swing High Little Girl" playing over the opening credits.[17] A new version of the film opened in New York on December 15, 1969, with the new score.[18] It was released in London in December 1970.[19]

Awards[edit]

Charlie Chaplin was nominated for four Academy Awards, but the Academy took Chaplin out of the running by giving him a Special Award "for writing, acting, directing and producing The Circus."[19][20] The Academy no longer lists Chaplin's nominations in their official list of nominees, although most unofficial lists include him.

Academy Award Nominee
Outstanding Picture United Artists (Charlie Chaplin, Producer)
Best Director, Comedy Picture Charlie Chaplin
Best Actor Charlie Chaplin
Best Writing (Original Story) Charlie Chaplin

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Bourne, Mark (2004). "The Circus: The Chaplin Collection". Reviews. The DVD Journal. Retrieved 29 October 2010. 
  2. ^ Pierce, David, ed. (June 21, 1932). "Biggest Money Picture". Variety. p. 1. 
  3. ^ Milton, Joyce (1998). Tramp: The Life of Charlie Chaplin. Da Capo Press. p. 256. ISBN 0-306-80831-5. 
  4. ^ Ede, François (director); Kusturica, Emir; Chaplin, Charlie (2003). Chaplin Today: The Circus (DVD). France: Association Chaplin, France 5, MK2TV, Warner Bros. 
  5. ^ Wakeman, John. World Film Directors, Volume 1. The H. W. Wilson Company. 1987. p. 675.
  6. ^ Lynn 1997, p. 308.
  7. ^ Mitchell 1997, p. 58.
  8. ^ a b Mitchell 1997, p. 57.
  9. ^ Flom, Eric L. (1997). Chaplin in the Sound Era: An Analysis of the Seven Talkies. McFarland. p. 34. ISBN 0-7864-0325-X. 
  10. ^ Vance, Jeffrey (2003). Chaplin: Genius of the Cinema. Harry N. Abram. pp. 182–183. ISBN 0-8109-4532-0. 
  11. ^ Lynn 1997, p. 313.
  12. ^ Crafton, Donald (1999). "The Uncertainty of Sound". The Talkies: American Cinema's Transition to Sound, 1926-1931 4. University of California Press. p. 17. ISBN 0-520-22128-1. 
  13. ^ Maland, Charles J. (1991). Chaplin and American Culture: The Evolution of a Star Image. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-02860-5. 
  14. ^ "Charles Spencer Chaplin". Encyclopedia of World Biography 3 (2nd ed.). Gale. 2004. pp. 438–440. 
  15. ^ Weddle, David (April 28, 2003). "Nothing Obvious or Easy: Chaplin's Feature Films" 390 (11). Variety. p. 6. ISSN 0042-2738. 
  16. ^ Niklew, Christiane; Reinhold, Daniela; Rienäcker, Helgard (1998) [1984]. "Inventar der Musikautographe im Hanns-Eisler-Archiv" [Inventory of the autographs in the Hanns-Eisler-Archive]. In Maren Köster. Hanns Eisler - 's müßt dem Himmel Höllenangst werden (in German). Stiftung Archiv der Akademie der Künste. pp. 201–295. ISBN 3923997833. 
  17. ^ King, Susan (2002-10-16). "Chaplin's big-top tension, on and off the screen". Los Angeles Times. p. E.3.  Robinson, David (2004). "The Circus". charliechaplin.com.  "Swing Little Girl". charliechaplin.com. 
  18. ^ Ede 2003. See also: American Film Institute (1997). Krafsur, Richard P., ed. The American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures Produced in the United States: Feature Films, 1961-1970, Part 2. University of California Press. p. 179. ISBN 0-520-20970-2.  Elliott, David (1994-12-01). "`Circus' is pure sound of `silents'". The San Diego Union. p. 16.  Greenspun, Roger (1969-12-16). "Little Tramp:'Circus,' '28 Film With Chaplin, Is Revived". The New York Times.  Raabe, Nancy (1994-09-30). "A familiar tune: Chaplin's `Circus' to be shown with original score". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 
  19. ^ a b Mitchell 1997, p. 59.
  20. ^ "The Circus". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved May 3, 2014. 

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Vance, Jeffrey (1996). ""The Circus": A Chaplin Masterpiece". Film History (Indiana University Press) 8 (2): 186–208. JSTOR 3815334. 

External links[edit]