USA, 1928, 71 min
Direction: Charles Chaplin
Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Allan Ernest Garcia, Merna Kennedy, Harry Crocker, George Davis, Henry Bergman, Tiny Sanford, John Rand, Steve Murphy
Awards: Honorary award by American Film Academy
Selection: Pedja’s Film Collection
The black and white mute comedy by Charlie Chaplin belongs to the category of the most esteemed classics of the film art in general, and it is also its direct “fault” for the endless fame of its author. It is difficult to imagine what the income of 3.8 million dollars meant in the year so far away, bearing in mind that it was only made of cinema projections because TV, VHS, DVD, YouTube, or piracy were not even in a consideration at the time.
Before The Circus, Chaplin had made only The Gold Rush of his anthological movies, but after another great success, Modern Times, City Lights, and The Great Dictator followed. All of them were created by, at the time, mighty United Artists. The production of this movie was certainly one of the strangest experiences of the super rich and otherwise strange career which was followed by numerous problems, scandals and gossips. The problems that were postponing the ending of the shooting changed one after another, including really serious things, such as a fire in the studio, Chaplin’s divorce from his second wife, Lita Grey, and a substantial debt to the American IRS. Nevertheless, on the 6th of January, 1928, The Circus finally lived to see its premiere.
The screenplay was written by both Joseph Mary Plunkett and Chaplin who directed, produced and played the lead role, the regular character of the majority of his movies, created and made famous by Chaplin himself –Little Tramp. An attractive short homeless, with a characteristic mustache and a funny walk in his outsized shoes, but with the traits of a true gentleman – a bamboo cane and a bowler hat, running from the police, finds himself in a circus. The circus owner finds his grimaces entertaining, so he hires him to make the audience laugh, but soon he realizes that he cannot make faces when told so, so he gives him the job of a janitor who somehow always gets in the centre of the attention during the program. Furthermore, the charming vagabond falls in love with a beautiful horse rider, so the movie also gains the element of a love romance.
American Film Academy nominated The Circus for two Oscars in 1929 – for best actor and best director in a comedy (a category that was canceled soon after), but in the meantime, it was decided that a special recognition award "for versatility and genius in acting, writing, directing and producing The Circus" should be given to Chaplin. Many years after, in 1970, Chaplin made a new version of the movie in the spirit of his perfectionism, with completely different music matrices.