The Circus was the film that won Charles Chaplin his first Academy Award, which was not officially known as the ‘Oscar.’ He was awarded it at the inaugural ceremony for awards in 1929. The prize was awarded for the ‘genuine and sass in acting, writing in directing, writing and directing.’
The film deserves the accolade. It features the best of his comedy inventions, balanced with a well-controlled tone. But, strangely, it’s the only film from his later feature films that Chaplin doesn’t refer to in his autobiography. In 1964, it was apparent that this was a film that he would rather forget about.
The cause was not the movie but the incredibly complicated circumstances that led to its creation. Chaplin was separating from his marriage to Lita Grey. The production of The Circus coincided with one of the most ugly and infamous divorces of 20th century Hollywood, and Lita’s lawyers tried every method to destroy the career of Chaplin by smears on his name. Then, at the height of the legal battle, the production of The Circus was put on hold for eight months as lawyers attempted to take the studio’s assets. Chaplin had to transport parts of the film, which was being shot in hidden locations.
If his problems weren’t sufficient, this film was predestined to disasters of all kinds. Before the beginning of filming, the enormous circus tent that is the primary scene of the movie was damaged by gales. Following four years of shooting, Chaplin realized that poor lab work had rendered everything already shot inoperable. In the 9th month of filming the film, a fire broke out in the studio, burning down the props and sets.
When the group returned to work following a forced lay-off, they discovered that the development of Hollywood’s mushrooms had transformed the scene beyond recognition. The issues remained until the very. For the final shot, which saw the Circus leaving town, The wagons were pulled to their last location. The unit was back for the second day of filming. The entire train of the Circus was gone. It was stolen by some spirited students who wanted to use it for a marathon bonfire. However, this time, Chaplin was just in time to halt the destruction. Somehow, out of that chaos, Chaplin created a movie that was a masterful blend of comedy and structure.
The entire story had grown from a single concept: Chaplin imagined a scene filled with comical thrills, just as his fellow comedian Harold Lloyd had made his specialty. The scene he had in mind was the final scene; having taken the role of a tightrope walker and then suspended above the circus ring, the walker is attacked by vicious monkeys that have escaped. They tear his trousers off and reveal that he had neglected to wear his tights. As this moment of terror was the climax, he built up the entire sequence leading to the moment and, finally, the final scene ending.
A Little Tramp is hired as a clown in the Circus that travels. The child of the owner of the chaos enthralls him. However, he is confronted by an unstoppable adversary in the attractive newly introduced tightrope walker. While trying to beat this rival, he is involved in a battle with the obnoxious monkeys.
The heroine’s character came from Merna Kennedy, a beautiful 18-year-old dancer making her film debut. She was joined as Harry Crocker, a handsome young socialite, played the Tramp’s lover. Chaplin and Crocker were able to learn for weeks the rope-walking techniques. Chaplin took on other risks in addition to the tightrope. For his scenes with Lions, he did around 200 take-offs, in some of them; he was in the cage of the lion. The expressions of terror he displays aren’t just acting.
Alongside the excitement, the film also contains his most successful comedy gags, including the first scenes of the fairground’s mirror hall and the fun-house outside, where he and a threatening Ruffian are made to dress as robots. It was full of humor that Chaplin was forced. It was able to eliminate the entire, well-constructed episode -a small film by itself, which included his misunderstandings with identical twins competing for prizes. The fantastic sequence, complete featuring its stunning double exposure effects, which allowed an actor named Doc Stone to portray the twins in both roles, is a tribute to the technical savvy of his collaborators.
In the mid-sixties, following years of trying to forget about it, Chaplin returned to The Circus to re-release the film with a brand new music score that was an original song he had composed. Chaplin even wrote an original theme song that he named ‘ Swing Little Girl which would be sung in the background of the titles. A professional singer was enlisted, but the Director of Music, Eric James, recognized that Chaplin could sing the tune better. Then he convinced him to, at 79, record the track. It was believed to symbolize his reconciliation with the movie that caused him so much stress.