Thursday, October 27, 2011

Chaplin: The Circus

You know what amused me about this movie that is really not funny in an objective sense? The gloves worn by the ringmaster character, as they are the exact sort of gloves worn by Mickey Mouse. They are pure white, have two slits and a button on the back, and seem to give an exaggerated roundness to his hands and fingers. I wish I had a screen capture, because it's not nearly as amusing just describing them (and considering how they aren't actually silly at all, most readers are probably raising an eyebrow to the screen or hitting "back" right now). The part that's sort of kind of a little bit more amusing is that I think I saw similar gloves in another classic movie recently (maybe Bringing up Baby), and they amused me a bit there, too.

Of coruse, it's not surprising in any way; Mickey dates from roughly this time period, so he's not wearing stylized things entirely designed to create a certain shape and hit a sweet spot between clean and busy design; they're based on real things that apparently fell out of fashion between then and now, even though Mickey (and his old cartoons) hasn't ever really disappeared.

I like seeing reminders of Mickey in The Circus, though, because Chaplin's take on The Little Tramp here is an awful lot like how Mickey would wind up portrayed in his comic strip by Floyd Gottfredson: Short and sweet, but also scrappy and brave - Mickey wouldn't back down from crossing a high-wire without training to help the show, and he'd probably be similarly ingenious in improvising a harness. He'd also absolutely stand up for Minnie (or Merna), even if it meant a fight. Both Gottfredson's Mickey and the Tramp are a lot tougher and less cutesy than they're given credit for.

The Circus

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 October 2011 in the Paramount Theatre Bright Screening Room (Chaplin)

The Circus is potentially a tricky movie, because it's built on the idea of Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp character being funny. This seems like a safe assumption, but it's not just about him being funny to us, but within the movie (in most cases, a joke that doesn't work is just a joke that doesn't work, but one that doesn't work when the story needs it to be funny is a problem). Fortunately, Chaplin has no troubles on that front, and manages to make one of his more purely entertaining features.

The circus is in town, and a certain Tramp (Chaplin) is wandering the grounds, hoping to find a snack. An encounter with a pickpocket (Steve Murphy) has him stumble into the big top, which gets a bigger laugh from the audience than anything the clowns are doing on purpose. The circus's proprieter and ringmaster (Allan Garcia) sees opportunity and hires him on, only to discover that the Tramp isn't that funny when he's trying. Meanwhile, the Tramp is falling for the ringmaster's stepdaughter Merna (Merna Kennedy), although her eye is caught by Rex (Harry Crocker), the handsome tightrope walker who has just joined the show.

Made between two movies often considered masterpieces (The Gold Rush and City Lights), The Circus is perhaps one of Chaplin's slighter films. It doesn't much go for the pathos that sets Chaplin apart from the other great silent comedians until the end, and even then it's perhaps misplaced, a mirror image of other movies' forced cheer. Chaplin executes those moments of seriousness well, of course, especially the scenes of Merna and the Tramp bonding over how the world is mistreating them (her stepfather is rather cruel toward her).

Full review at EFC.

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