AN INTRODUCTION TO THE CIRCUS (1928)
Charlie Chaplin produced The Circus through United Artists.
It was this Chaplin masterpiece that led to his first Academy Award for ‘Versatility and genius in writing, acting, directing and producing’, which he received at the very first presentation ceremony in 1929.
The story for this particular film all came from one idea: Chaplin envisioned a climactic scene in which the Little Tramp was suspended over a circus audience on a tight rope whilst simultaneously being attacked by monkeys – niche, we know. With all this in mind, he built up the rest of the story and the finale to conclude it.
As the story goes, the Tramp is mistakenly chased by police who wrongly believe him to be a pickpocket and stumbles right into a circus act and unknowingly becomes the hit of the show. The story line combines comedy, romance and sacrifice and although it is mostly made up of light-hearted gags, the finale sees the Tramp strolling into the sunset on his own, after watching the love of his life marry another man.
Whilst the film certainly deserved its recognition in the form of an Academy Award, it was surprisingly one of the most troublesome films that Chaplin made. During the time of filming, Charlie’s marriage to Lita Grey was collapsing as she became convinced that her husband was having an affair with Merna, her best friend who was playing the object of the Tramp’s affection in the film. During the divorce proceedings, her lawyers did their best to destroy Chaplin’s reputation and career. Production of The Circus was halted for a total of 9 months, as Lita’s lawyers attempted to seize the studio assets. To make matters worse, the huge circus tent used for filming was destroyed by gales before shooting had begun. The first month’s footage was subsequently damaged and had to be completely re-shot and in the ninth month of filming, a fire in the studio destroyed the entire set.
Nevertheless, in 1928, The Circus was complete and as well-received as any of Chaplin’s previous works of genius. Nevertheless, this is his only main feature films that he did not mention in his autobiography. Given the circumstances, we don’t blame him.