Circus, The (1928): Chaplin’s-Oscar Nominated Comedy

In the slapstick comedy, The Circus, Charlie Chaplin plays a clown who joins a circus and falls in love with bareback rider (Merna Kennedy), who’s in love with another man, a high-wire artist played by Harry Crocker.
The Circus
The Circus (1928) - Hap Hadley poster.jpg

US poster by Alvan “Hap” Hadley
The plot, and its dilemmas are conventional and even sentimental, but Chaplin is brilliant in a social milieu that fits him like a silk glove.
Chaplin had never won a legitimate award, but he was honored with three Special Oscars. The first of which was in 1927-28 for his “versatility and genius,” in writing, producing, directing, and acting in “The Circus.” Chaplin was nominated for this film in competitive categories, but
did not win.
The Circus premiered in New York on January 6, 1928, at the Strand Theatre, and in Los Angeles on January 27 at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. It came out at the start of the sound film era–the first sound film, The Jazz Singer (1927), was released just several months earlier.

Chaplin composed a new score for the film in 1967, and this new version of the film (see below) was copyrighted in 1968 (to “The Roy Export Company Establishment”) and released in 1969.

The Circus and The Gold Rush, made in 1925, are considered to be Chaplin’s best comedies.

In 1972, Raymond Rasch, Larry Russell, and Charlie Chaplin earned the best original score for “Limelight,” a film that was made twenty years earlier. However, released in the L.A. county in 1972 for the first time, Limelight was eligible for nominations. Both Rasch and Russell were dead, but Chaplin accepted the award for a film, which had been banned in the United States for many years, though it was shown in Europe.

Whenever the Academy sensed that a major contribution stands no chance of winning a legitimate award, they vote a Special or Honorary Oscar. The Academy’s citation for Chaplin was for his “collective accomplishments, which place you in a class by yourself.”
The Academy has been reluctant to bestow the Oscar Award posthumously. Some suggest that the Academy’s reluctance stems from its belief that the awards should affect the careers of practicing artists. In some categories, such as the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for distinguished producers, and the Honorary Oscars, the rules state explicitly that the awards “shall not be voted posthumously.”
Oscar Nominations:
Direction (Comedy): Chaplin
Actor: Chaplin
Oscar Awards: None
Oscar Context:
The winner of the Best Comedy Direction (a category that prevailed for only one year) was Lewis Milestone for “Two Arabian Night.”
The Best Actor winner was German Emil Jannings (best known for “The Blue Angel”) for two performances, in “The Last Command” and “The Way of All Flesh.”


Produced, directed, written by Charlie Chaplin
Written by Charlie Chaplin
Music by Arthur Kay (1928 version);  Chaplin Directed (1967 version)

Cinematography Roland Totheroh
Distributed by United Artists

Release date: January 6, 1928

Running time: 70 minutes

Charlie Chaplin as A Tramp
Al Ernest Garcia as The Circus Proprietor and Ringmaster
Merna Kennedy as His Step-daughter, A Circus Rider
Harry Crocker as Rex, A Tight Rope Walker (also disgruntled property man and clown)
George Davis as A Magician
Henry Bergman as An Old Clown
Tiny Sandford as The Head Property Man (as Stanley J. Sandford)
John Rand as An Assistant Property Man (also a clown)
Steve Murphy as A pickpocket