Judge Bill Treadway's irrational fear of bearded ladies was overridden by his desire to watch The Little Tramp under the big top.
This is comedy without a net!
The Circus has the dubious distinction of being one of Chaplin's most overlooked silent comedies. The troubled production and subsequent scandals did not help the film's reputation.
Looking at the film 76 years later, however, one discovers that The Circus is among Chaplin's finest achievements. After several mediocre VHS and DVD releases, Warner Bros. and MK2 Editions have teamed up to issue the definitive release.
Facts of the Case
The Little Tramp (Charles Chaplin) is wandering around the circus grounds when he is mistaken for a pickpocket. Running at top speed to elude the police, he finds himself the star attraction when he accidentally carries the chase into the circus tents. With visions of dollar signs in his head, the circus owner offers the Little Tramp an audition.
The audition goes badly, as the Tramp simply isn't funny when he tries to be. When the circus owner discovers that the Tramp garnered all his laughs by accident, he decides to retain the Tramp as a janitor and make him an unwitting laughingstock and attraction.
While working for the circus, the Little Tramp falls for Merna, an acrobat who happens to be the owner's daughter. When tightrope walker Rex joins the circus, the Tramp finds himself in competition for Merna's heart.
The Circus was the most troubled production of Charles Chaplin's career. When he began production in 1926, Chaplin had no idea of the trouble that would ensue. Accidents kept occurring: The main circus tent set burned down. The film lab ruined the first two weeks' footage. Just when the trouble seemed to begin to pass, Chaplin's wife, Lita Grey, decided to file for divorce. Urged on by her lawyer uncle, Grey and her lawyers attempted to seize control of the existing negative of The Circus. Luckily Chaplin hid the negative and, after settling the case, finished the film in late 1927. It is the only one of his early films not to be mentioned in his autobiography. Nevertheless, despite its poor reputation, The Circus is well worth seeing. There are set pieces here that rival the best of Chaplin's work.
All of the Chaplin films have been issued on DVD before in prints of varying quality. For their definitive release, Warner Bros. and MK2 Editions have gone back to the original master prints from the Chaplin estate vaults. With a careful, frame-by-frame restoration, they have done magnificent work here. This is the best The Circus has ever looked. There are the usual signs of age, such as scratches and specks, but never has The Circus looked this clean and silky. The gorgeous black-and-white photography has a gloss unseen since the 1928 premiere.
If there is one area I have criticized again and again in these recent Chaplin DVDs, it is the audio. I simply do not like the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround stereo tracks. The mix sounds shallow and empty when compared to the breathtaking, vivid 2.0 mono track. Chaplin's films were made with monaural sound and should be presented this way. The stereo rips a lot of the liveliness of Chaplin's score right out from under it.
Warner Bros. has given The Circus some worthwhile extras:
• Introduction by David Robinson, author of Charlie Chaplin:
Comic Genius. This is a bit brief at five minutes, but it nicely sets up the
film by providing general biographical information.
The Circus is a Chaplin disc everyone should make the effort to check out. 'Nuff said.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Introduction by David Robinson
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