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The Circus: The Criterion Collection (1928) - Blu-ray Review

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The Circus

By now, the majority of movie lovers agree that Charlie Chaplin was ONE of the great geniuses of the silent era.  That wasn’t always the case, though, and it probably took The Circus to get everybody on board his brand of cinema.  At the time that this movie was made, there were a lot of arrows pointed directly at Chaplin . . . and they were all sharp.  None of them; however, as sharp looking as this brand-new transfer from Criterion Collection which, after some delay, continue their HD rollout of Chaplin’s film legacy.

"Now revered as a classic, it’s a wonder The Circus even got made"

Now revered as a classic, it’s a wonder The Circus even got made.  The last film Chaplin made during the silent era of filmmaking is now on blu-ray with a brand-new 4K digital restoration of Charlie Chaplin’s 1969 re-release version of the film, featuring an original score by Chaplin, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack and the results are amazing.

Consider this about the making of this stalled and stalled again film, Chaplin’s marriage to Lita Grey was falling apart, the IRS was after him for back taxes, his mother had died, a studio fire shut the production down, and – in the irony of all ironies – Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer was already killing it in theaters.  The silent era’s days were numbered and here comes The Circus, in which Chaplin’s The Tramp character (in what might be the most famous set pieces) becomes an animatronic figure . . . and manages to win us over with real emotion.

The Circus begins with Chaplin being unfairly being accused of stealing.  The true criminal hides his stolen loot in The Little Tramp’s pocket and he hightails it straight into a hall of mirrors and then, on board a carnival funhouse prop where he, due to his luck, gets to pretend to be an animatronic prop and bop the criminal repeatedly on the head.  It is a set piece that establishes the ingenious tone of this film and, with three other GREAT set pieces still to go, should tell us all we need to know about just how immortal this comedy is: The Circus still deserves an audience.

When the ringmaster hires Chaplin to be a clown in his circus, the perfect fit he had imagined falls on its ass.  Literally.  Chaplin can only amuse crowds unintentionally.  But, for us, we are laughing all the way from one set piece (the cages) to the other (the tightrope) and beyond.The Circus

Chaplin, who had yet to work from a script, always created his films from within the camera.  The Circus gains the bulk of its comedy from this fast as some of his more successful shorts are recreated and improved here.  The rehearsal of ideas proved what worked. This fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants mentality always provided him with enough gusto and gags to win over audiences, but – ever the modernist – he himself knew the times were changing, but all that adds to Chaplin’s insistence to get us to feel something about The Tramp character who, at the end of the movie, is left on his own, with a piece of the circus advertisement clutched in his hand.

The ending is classic Chaplin: alone, watching the last circus wagon leave him in the dust.  He sits on someone’s luggage, dragging his walking stick in the dust, until – with a shrug and his unmistakable walk – the little tramp decides to move on.

The Circus, co-starring Al Ernest Garcia, Merna Kennedy, Harry Crocker, George Davis and Henry Bergman, is now on blu-ray thanks to Criterion.

5/5 beers

The Circus


Blu-ray Details:

Home Video Distributor: Criterion
Available on Blu-ray
- September 24, 2019
Screen Formats: 1.33:1
: English
Music: LPCM 1.0 Mono
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; single disc
Region Encoding: Locked to Region A

Released by Criterion, the new 4K digital restoration of Charlie Chaplin’s 1969 rerelease version of the film, featuring an original score by Chaplin, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray is a thing of beauty.  It will please fans of the Silent Era of cinema and, due to the work here, makes this release a must-own.


The Circus arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion and their performance in the handling of this release is top notch.  Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and encoded with MPEG-4 AVC, this 1080p transfer is simply superb.  Detail is crisp and the contrast levels are equally impressive.  Chaplin loved to shoot Goddard with a close-up and those close-ups – especially with this transfer – reveal nothing but her beauty.  Fantastic!! 


The English LPCM 1.0 track is very powerful and all blips from the source material have been removed using Pro Tools HD



  • There is a great and informative NEW audio commentary featuring Chaplin biographer Jeffrey Vance who gives a lot of information about the making of the movie and its legacy.

Special Features:

The supplemental features on the disc include an illustrated booklet. It contains Pamela Hutchinson’s essay.  The supplemental features are groundbreaking with their knowledge on the film and illuminate how some of the effects were rendered. The exhaustive and truly fascinating special features are as listed below.

  • Interview with Chaplin from 1969
  • New interview with Chaplin’s son Eugene Chaplin
  • In the Service of the Story, a new program on the film’s visual effects and production design by film scholar Craig Barron
  • Chaplin Today: “The Circus,” a 2003 documentary on the film featuring filmmaker Emir Kusturica
  • Excerpted audio interview from 1998 with Chaplin musical associate Eric James
  • Unused café sequence with new score by composer Timothy Brock, and related outtakes with narration by comedy choreographer Dan Kamin
  • Newly discovered outtakes featuring the Tramp and the circus rider
  • Excerpts from the original recording session for the film’s opening song, “Swing Little Girl”
  • Footage of the film’s 1928 Hollywood premiere
  • Rerelease trailers

Blu-ray Rating:

  Movie 5/5 stars
  Video  5/5 stars
  Audio 4/5 stars
  Extras 5/5 stars

Overall Blu-ray Experience

5/5 stars

The Circus

MPAA Rating: Unrated.
72 mins
: Charles Chaplin
Charles Chaplin
Charles Chaplin, Merna Kennedy, Al Ernest Garcia
: Comedy | Silent
Charlie Chaplin in the Greatest Picture of His Entire Career...
Memorable Movie Quote:
Theatrical Distributor:
United Artists
Official Site:
Release Date:
January 6, 1928
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
September 24, 2019
Synopsis: After being mistaken for a pickpocket, Chaplin’s Tramp flees into the ring of a traveling circus and soon becomes the star of the show, falling for the troupe’s bareback rider along the way.

The Circus

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