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Charlie's Tramp character finds himself at a circus where he is promptly gets chased around by the police who think he is a pickpocket. Running into the bigtop, he is an accidental sensation with his hilarious efforts to elude the police. The ringmaster/owner immediately hires him, but discovers the Tramp cannot be funny on purpose, so he takes advantage of the situation by making the Tramp a janitor just happens to always in the Bigtop at showtime. Unaware of this exploitation, the Tramp falls for the owner's lovely acrobatic daughter, who is abused by her father. His chances seem good, until a dashing rival comes in and Charlies feels he has to compete with him. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm <email@example.com>
Charles Chaplin's studio burnt down during production. This, combined with a number of major personal issues that arose during production, led to Chaplin's nervous breakdown (he spent time recovering in New York after about two-thirds of the film had been shot). See more »
After the tramp washes the shaving cream from his face, he dries himself with a towel but the towel never touches his face (this is probably so that it won't mess up the stage makeup). See more »
Chaplin's comedy about comedy is sweet, funny and beautiful
The Little Tramp is chased into a circus tent during a performance; his antics prove funnier than those of the clowns, and the ringmaster hires him for the show.
When a comedian plays a character who is inadvertently hilarious, it can seem narcissistic: just check out Jerry Lewis's "The Errand Boy" where Lewis has his supporting cast praise the comic genius of the character played by Jerry Lewis. Despite this danger, and despite Chaplin's off-screen egotism, the premise plays beautifully, especially since The Little Tramp (though not Chaplin) is such a terrible comedian when he's trying to be one. My favorite moment is when the ringmaster demands the auditioning Tramp to be funny right that instant: the Tramp grins and shyly dances around a bit, gingerly falls down, puts his cane between his legs and meekly lifts himself back up. "Terrible!" roars his would-be employer.
This film has more self-awareness over comedy conventions that any other Chaplin I know of. The Tramp ineptly (but hilariously) performs a couple of standard comedy routines with the other circus clowns. Later, there's a funny twist to the old banana peel gag; and near the end he crashes into an old general store, looking as if he's thrust himself back into his old Keystone days. This is Chaplin's last true silent film, and the Keystone moment feels like a nostalgic farewell to the past.
"The Circus" is funny throughout, but the opening scenes are probably the best. There's a marvelous funhouse sequence and a priceless routine where The Tramp pretends to be a motorized dummy. (Has anyone seen the Swiss clock routine from "Your Show of Shows"?) He also falls in love with the ringmaster's cruelly treated daughter, which leads to a poignant ending.
I enjoyed the music, which Chaplin composed for this film in 1969. His scores are always repetitive; but they're also sweet and funny and they enhance the action. I could have done without the title-sequence song (which he sings himself)something about looking up at rainbows. Otherwise, this comedy is near-perfect and holds its own against Chaplin's even greater features, "The Gold Rush," "City Lights" and "Modern Times."
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