74. The Circus (1928)

United Artists 1923-52

Film still for The Circus


Outside a circus ring the Ringmaster tells his stepdaughter she must go without supper because she missed the hoop during her act as a circus rider. He tells the clowns off because they did not get many laughs. Charlie, the tramp wanders round the sideshows. A pickpocket plants a wallet on him, but is caught by the police as he tries to get it back. The owner of the wallet sees the tramp with his property and sets the police onto him. They follow the tramp into a hall of mirrors. The pickpocket still tries to retrieve the wallet by following the tramp outside where there is a display of automatons. They pose as mechanical models to evade the police. Charlie uses the opportunity to repeatedly hit the pickpocket over the head. Once they realise Charlie is not a dummy the police chase him into the circus ring where the tramp gets caught up in a magician's act. The audience think he is very funny. He eventually escapes and falls asleep in a cart behind the ring. The Ringmaster finds him and offers him a job. Next morning he shares his breakfast with the girl who has had no breakfast. The tramp auditions for the Ringmaster but is slow to learn the art of comedy. He auditions in a William Tell act and a Barbershop act. He is given the sack and as he leaves he meets the girl and tells her he is leaving. Meanwhile a dispute has arisen with the property men who refuse to work, so the tramp gets a job taking things into the ring. He messes up the magician's act again and makes the audience laugh; the Ringmaster decides to keep him on as a property man.

As part of his duties Charlie has to look after the animals and while trying to blow a pill down a horse's throat, swallows it himself. Later the girl tells him he is the hit of the show but her stepfather overhears her and hits her. The tramp tells him that he will leave the circus if he does not stop hitting the girl and if he doesn't give him a raise. The ringmaster reluctantly agrees. A new arrival to the circus, Rex, a handsome tightrope walker, makes an immediate impression on the girl. Charlie overhears her telling the gypsy fortune-teller that she has fallen in love with Rex and after this revelation Charlie gets less and less laughs in his act. After meeting Rex and watching his act, the tramp decides to emulate his rival and takes up tightrope walking. One night Rex does not turn up to do his act so the tramp has to go on instead. He pays a man five dollars to let him wear a safety belt. The tramp goes on to do the act but halfway through the safety belt comes off. The tramp, realising this, is terrified and has to finish the act hampered by three monkeys who have got into the Ring. Afterwards, he finds the Ringmaster hitting his stepdaughter again. He hits the Ringmaster and is fired. That night at his camp, the girl joins him and asks him to let her stay. Charlie leaves her there while he returns to the circus to tell Rex that he can do nothing to help the girl. Rex and the girl get married with the tramp as their only witness. They return to the circus after the wedding, and Rex says that he will return only if Charlie also returns. The Ringmaster agrees and gives the tramp the end wagon as the circus is pulling out of town. The tramp looks wistfully at the newlyweds and decides that three is a crowd - he will remain behind. After a while he shrugs and walks jauntily off in the opposite direction.


Chaplin-United Artists
Charles Chaplin
Charles Chaplin
Charles Chaplin
Roland Totheroh
Jack Wilson, Mark Marlatt
Assistant Director:
Harry Crocker
Art Director:
Charles D. Hall
Charles Chaplin
Charles Chaplin (Tramp)
Merna Kennedy (Equestrienne)
Allan Garcia (Circus Proprietor)
Harry Crocker (Rex, the High Wire Walker)
Henry Bergman (Old Clown)
Stanley Sanford (Chief Property Man)
George Davis (Magician)
Betty Morrissey (Vanishing Lady)
John Rand (Assistant Property Man and Clown)
Armand Triller (Clown)
Steve Murphy (Pickpocket)
Bill Knight (Cop)
Jack Pierce (Man operating Ropes)
H. L. Kyle
Eugene Barry
L. J. O'Connor
Hugh Saxon
Jack Bernard
Max Tyron
A. Bachman
William Blystone
Numi (Lion)
Bobby (Monkey)
Josephine (Monkey)
Jimmy (Monkey)
In Cut Sequences
Doc Stone (Twin Prize Fighters)
Production started:
2 November 1925
Production interrupted:
5 December 1926-3 September 1927
Production finished:
19 November 1927
6 January 1928 Strand Theatre, New York
6500 ft. Reissue Version
Charles Chaplin
Charles Chaplin
Musical Director:
Eric James
Song, 'Swing, Little Girl' composed and sung by Charles Chaplin.
6431 ft