There is a timelessness in the wordless charms of Charlie Chaplin. Whatever the case can be made for his later efforts as a comedian in a format rapidly changing around him, his high points are certainly fascinating. We do not need wordplay or witty dialogue to throw us into fits of laughter, and those early days under Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. Those three entertainers were risking life and limb for a few chuckles and creative bursts. Well worth it, for sure. It is a humour and style that will work for some, but not for others. Regardless of its quality as comic antics, its revelations for the genre itself are mesmerising, intricate, and thoroughly well-presented by the legendary Chaplin.
Its humour bases itself upon the visual charm Chaplin could conjure. He makes for a delightful entertainer here, utilising the circus hijinks to his advantage. The tramp character does not get his finest outing here, which would be reserved for The Kid, which explored a fond emotional depth for the character, but The Circus gives Chaplin’s humour and comedic offerings an extra layer of technicality to them. Mirror houses and moments that do exhibit that fascinating movie magic. Even then, those large, notable set pieces are often overshadowed by the small nods and brief scenes. Chaplin taking an egg from a chicken, and then tipping his hat before he boils it, is a notch funnier than him falling onto the fire he boiled the egg over. But that is the beauty of Chaplin’s work. Both are keen examples of his humorous physicality, and both provide a variable reaction.
The Circus is not just a repetition of everything Chaplin had done before and would do after, no, it is a reflection of how his notes of humour were simple, broad and effective. If he could conjure the same level of laughter through faking the hiccups as he could running from police officers through a funhouse, then he has on his hands an adaptable styling of comedy. It is a natural element, one that cannot be taught or trained into someone. That, among other notes of timing and dexterity, make Chaplin one of a kind. His direction here makes that the focus of the feature. His antics are not just slapstick, but dangerous. Chaplin creates a one-of-a-kind style, one that blends the persona of the character and the man himself with the revolutionary directing skills he brought to that branch of comedy.
“The Funny Man,” one slide says. Chaplin was, indeed, the funny man. He still is. He lives on in The Circus as an identity of what we can keenly and closely observe as the fundamental basics of his character and his craft. We cut to Chaplin in an upturned, oversized wheelbarrow, and then fade to black. There is nothing particularly funny about that scene, but the restless need to entertain with physically demanding humour must have tired the man out. His antics in the circus lead to some of his most stellar comedic work, with notable blends of a timeless story. He gets the girl, his just desserts and does so with a twinkle in the eye of his tramp invention.