Charlie, at the midway of a circus "somewhere in
the sticks," is wrongly accused of theft. A policeman chases him
through the whole area of the circus and its amusement concessions.
Charlie's innocence is established and he even gets a job with the circus.
He meets the circus equestrienne (Merna Kennedy), who is also the
stepdaughter of the circus owner (Allan Garcia). Charlie falls in love
with her, although she is not aware that the little man feels more than
friendship for her.
Charlie is fired by the circus owner when his blunders occur too frequently.
However, when the workmen of the circus go on strike, Charlie is rehired.
This time his blunders win him the approval of the viewing public because
they occur during the performances of others in the ring. The circus
owner does not let Charlie know that he has become a hit, but continues to
treat him as an ordinary handy man. Charlie wants to be a traditional
clown, but at his tryout he is told, "Go ahead and be funny," and he finds
he cannot do this. The girl tells the unsuspecting workman that his
mishaps have been drawing huge crowds, and that he should be getting a high
salary. The circus owner is furious when he finds out what his
stepdaughter has said, but Charlie protects her from the man abuse.
Charlie now is treated with a great deal of
respect by the circus owner, and is given the recognition that he deserves
as a top clown. But Rea (Harry Crocker), the King of the High Wire, join
the circus and the girl falls in love with him. When Rex does not
appear at one performance, Charlie goes on for him, hoping in this way to
convince the equestrienne that he is just as capable as the man she loves.
The high wire act becomes a comedy of errors, but Charlie finally makes it
safely to the ground.
When the girl is again abused by her stepfather,
Charlie defends her and is fired from the circus. The girl joins
Charlie on the road. The ex-clown realizes that the girl has left the circus
because she feels that she cannot look forward to any future with Rex. While
the girl is asleep, Charlie returns the circus and appeals to Rex to marry
the equestrienne, explaining the situation. Rex, sincerely in love
with the girl, agrees. He marries her and brings her back to the
circus with Charlie accompanying them. The circus owner, realizing
that any abuse on his part would make Rex quit the show, accepts the couple.
The girl demands that Charlie be rehired, and the owner is also forced to
Charlie, however, no longer wants to be a part
of the circus world. Now that the equestrienne is married, he cannot bear
being around knowing that she belongs to another. When the circus
moves on to a new town, Charlie remains behind, determined to look for
The Circus, although it did not have the pathos of
The Gold Rush, was
accepted gratefully by the critics and the public. This film was like many
of Chaplin's old short comedies. Filled with funny situations, it
still allowed Chaplin to reveal his little Tramp character as a warm and
thoughtful man being.
In the first year that the Academy of Motion
Picture Arts and Sciences made its awards, Chaplin was presented with an
"Oscar" as a Special Award "for versatility and genius in writing, acting,
directing and producing The Circus." He was also nominated as
best actor and best comedy director, the latter being a category which was
not repeated in ensuing years.
What was said about The Circus:
New York Daily News
(reviewed by Irene Thirer)
"Charles Spencer Chaplin's Circus movie is a screaming delight from fade-in
to fade-out. It is a howling, hearty, happy, slightly slapstick cinema
production wherein the inimitable Charlie gets you more often by a laugh
than by a tear...Every reel is a revelation of humor. Throughout, the
film is spontaneous, intelligent. Nothing drags; no part is unnecessary."
New York Evening Post (reviewed by John K. Hutchens)
"Charlie Chaplin wrote, directed and produced The Circus and, if it
is not his very greatest picture, it yet remains that very rare thing in the
cinema world: a piece of genuine artistry, for the rather important
reason that he is also its star. And the star, as always, is an
anonymous little tramp, with a ridiculous cane, a silly hat, a pair of
flopping, ill-proportioned feet and the art of that high comedy which is
ever and hauntingly on the borderline of tragedy."
New York Daily Mirror
(reviewed by Bland Johaneson)
"The Circus at the Strand is a great picture. Chaplin is at his
best in a riotous comedy with an undercurrent of pathos. It's certain
to live long and be loved. The hardest-boiled crowd in town went to
the midnight opening on Friday and laughed off all its mascara."
New York Herald Tribune (reviewed by Harriette Underhill)
"There are certain ones who declare that
Shoulder Arms was a
better picture than The Circus, but we find this newest picture at
least as funny as anything Chaplin ever has done. The high point in
every way is reached when Charlie is forced to go on in place of the
handsome hero, who is a tightrope walker."
The New York Times (reviewed by Mordaunt Hall)
"The Circus is likely to please intensely those who found something
slightly wanting in
The Gold Rush, but at the
same time it will prove a little disappointing to those who reveled in the
poetry, the pathos and fine humor of his previous adventure. Chaplin's
pictures bring to mind the Scotsman who said that all whiskey was good but
that some brands were better than others. Chaplin never fails to
tickle one's fancy. He lifts the masks from the dejected or the
cynical and discovers faces wreathed in merriment."