The Circus appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The film didn’t usually belie its age, as it mostly looked very good given its elderly status.
Some issues related to softness appeared at times. Wide shots occasionally came across as a little indistinct and mildly blurry, and even some close-ups demonstrated similar concerns. While the majority of the movie appeared accurate and reasonably concise, softness created a few distractions. I saw no issues due to jagged edges or moiré effects, but some mild edge enhancement showed up periodically throughout the movie.
Black levels looked nicely deep and dense for the most part. Periodically they were slightly grey, but they mostly seemed solid. Contrast levels were positive. Low-light situations were accurately displayed and seemed appropriately well defined.
Despite the very advanced age of Circus, the print came largely free from flaws. Some flickering appeared at times, as well as some white flashes. Otherwise, I saw periodic examples of specks, grit, and thin lines, but these remained pretty unobtrusive for such an old flick. Although the image still featured a few concerns, I thought it deserved an “B+“, as one normally wouldn’t find such an old movie in such great shape.
For this new release, The Circus got a new Dolby Digital 5.1 remix. It seemed unclear when the film’s music was recorded. The movie came with a copyright date of 1968, but the recording sounded like it came from an earlier period. Music presented the track’s only elements. The 5.1 version spread out the score to the side speakers, though stereo delineation seemed muddled. Never did I discern good definition of the various instruments, as the presentation felt like broad mono for the most part. The surrounds may have kicked in light reinforcement of the front speakers, but I noticed nothing in particular from them.
The quality of the 5.1 track seemed decent but not great. The score came across as somewhat shrill and trebly. Dynamic range was decent but the high-end dominated and seemed a bit rough. A little hum, hiss and background noise also popped up at times. Overall, the audio seemed acceptable for an older movie, but it never stood out as very positive.
As a two-DVD package, The Circus packs some good supplements on its second platter. We open with an Introduction from Chaplin biographer David Robinson. In this five-minute piece, he gives us some general notes about the film and its production. We learn of Chaplin’s ugly divorce with Lita Grey and how it affected the flick as well as other problems with the production. Most of what Robinson says appears elsewhere, but it’s a quick and moderately engaging program.
Entitled Chaplin Today: The Circus, the next piece runs 26 minutes and 29 seconds. It shows bits from the movie, some archival and historical materials, and remarks from filmmaker Emir Kusturica. We get a general feeling for the roots of the film, Chaplin’s background and methods, problems, deleted material, and its production. Kusturica occasionally pops up to offer his thoughts on Chaplin and cinema, but unlike many prior “Chaplin Today” episodes, those moments don’t dominate the proceedings. They don’t offer much either, but the focus remains mainly on Chaplin’s work and The Circus. That emphasis makes this a fairly interesting piece, though it does kind of skirt over the divorce issues and some other controversies.
Deleted Sequence lasts nine minutes, 40 seconds and presents a “date” between the Tramp and Merna that Rex spoils. We see parts of this in the documentary, but this segment shows the whole thing. It’s entertaining and fun to see.
In October 7-13, 1926, we get a week’s worth of outtakes from the film. This fills 26 minutes, 25 seconds and gives us multiple iterations from the restaurant scene found in the prior “deleted sequence”. It’s quite cool to watch the minor variations on this bit, as Chaplin the perfectionist worked it out to his satisfaction.
Next we get Mountbatten Home Movies. From the archives of Lord Mountbatten, we find three pieces: “At Charlie Chaplin’s Studio” (80 seconds), “Douglas Fairbanks” (103 seconds), and “The Sacrifice” (three minutes, 21 seconds). The first two show folks as they clown for the cameras, on and off the set. “Sacrifice” is a home-made short comedy that features Chaplin. None of these seem great, but they’re interesting historical snippets.
The “Documents” domain includes a mix of archival materials somehow related to The Circus. The Hollywood Premiere provides a six-minute and 23-second glance at the flick’s elaborate opening, and we also see luminaries as they arrive.
Camera A, Camera B fills 76 seconds of footage from the deleted restaurant scene. Both cameras were side-by-side and shot almost identical material; the DVD doesn’t explain why Chaplin used this method, so the footage doesn’t seem terribly useful in this setting. Next we find two minutes, 23 seconds of 3D Test Footage. Again, we get no explanation of this stuff, so its utility becomes limited.
“Documents” ends with 12 minutes and 28 seconds of a Jackie Coogan film called Circus Days. We find excerpts but not the whole thing. “Days” connects to Circus solely due to the subject matter and Chaplin’s relationship to child actor Coogan; I see no evidence of involvement from Chaplin in “Days” itself. It’s not very good, but it’s another nice historical remnant nonetheless.
In the trailers area, we get reissue ads. These come in English and French. Inside the Photo Gallery, we get eight subsections of material. It splits into “The Circus” (83 stills), “The Rope” (30 shots), “Deleted Sequence” (nine), “Sketches” (eight), “Sets” (20), “After the Fire” (five), “Merna Kennedy” (16), and “Miscellaneous” (13). These pictures help embellish our understanding of the production. Film Posters provides more stills, as we see 12 ads from different eras and nations.
Lastly, DVD Two provides a package called The Chaplin Collection. This features short clips from the following flicks: The Kid, A Woman of Paris, The Gold Rush, The Circus, City Lights, Modern Times, The Great Dictator, Monsieur Verdoux, Limelight, A King in New York, and The Chaplin Revue.
One nice – and surprising – touch: most of the DVD’s supplements include subtitles in English and a mix of other languages. Other than on DVDs from Paramount and DreamWorks, text accompaniment for extras occurs exceedingly infrequently, so the additional subtitles are much welcomed here.
At times The Circus feels like a series of gags in search of a story it never quite finds. Nonetheless, Charlie Chaplin makes those comedic bits work well enough to offer a reasonable amount of entertainment. The DVD presents the usual strong picture quality with fairly average audio and a broad and useful set of supplements. The Circus lacks the general appeal of Chaplin’s better films, but fans will be pleased with this release.