December 27, 2019  (Web Review)

The Circus

Criterion, 72 min., not rated, DVD: $29.95, Blu-ray: $39.95

Reviewer rating: 3.5/4

The last film completed by Charles Chaplin in the silent era, The Circus (1928) is overshadowed by the other feature comedies Chaplin made with his “Little Tramp” persona, yet is no less funny than such classics as The Gold Rush or City Lights. Here, the Little Tramp ducks into a circus tent while on the run from the police and inadvertently thrills and charms the audience with his antics while evading his pursuers. The ringmaster (Allan Garcia) immediately hires him as a performer but, after discovering that he’s only funny when he’s not trying to be, demotes him to handyman and sends him to work in the big top during show time. Meanwhile, our hero falls for the ringmaster’s mistreated stepdaughter (Merna Kennedy) and takes to the high wire himself in a stand-out sequence in which he tries to keep his balance while three monkeys clamber over him. The Circus features less pathos than other Chaplin films, but the elaborate set pieces (including one where the Little Tramp is trapped in a cage with a lion) are executed with the same perfection and comic timing as in his most famous works. The film was a huge hit in its day and Chaplin was awarded a special Oscar for “versatility and genius in writing, acting, directing and producing” at the first Academy Awards in 1928. Criterion presents a 4K digital restoration of Chaplin’s 1969 re-release version (complete with a score composed by Chaplin), featuring extras including audio commentary by Chaplin biographer Jeffrey Vance, a cut scene and outtakes, new and archival interviews and featurettes, footage from the 1928 premiere, and a booklet with an essay by critic Pamela Hutchinson. A classic silent comedy that is arguably the most underrated of Chaplin’s comedies, this is highly recommended. (S. Axmaker)