“Speed, dust, location”

Chaplin gave careful thought to the filming of the final scene in The Circus, as indicated by the following contemporary description, by an unidentified reporter, of Chaplin at work, on location in Glendale, CA, on October 10-11, 1927:

Perspiring men rush about the Chaplin studio. Carpenters, painters, electricians, technical minds, laborers. Charlie must not be held up. A caravan of circus wagons are hitched on behind four huge motor trucks. They start for Cahuenga Pass. A long and hard pull to Glendale. The location is flooded with light. It comes from all directions. The dynamo wagon hums. So the men work through the night.

Daylight breaks. The morning is cold. Cracklings echo from a dozen fires. It is an unusual California crispness. Cars begin to arrive. The roar of exhausts signals their coming. There is an extra loud rumbling. The big blue limousine comes to a stop. The Circus must be finished. Everyone is on time. Now the sun is holding things up. Why doesn’t it hurry and come up over the mountains? It is long shadows the Tramp wants.

Six o’clock and half the morning is wasted. The edge of the circus ring is too dark. It doesn’t look natural. The Tramp refuses to work artificially. Men start to perspire again. Thirty minutes later the soft voice speaks. “Fine! That’s Fine! Let’s shoot!”

Cameras grind. Circus wagons move across the vast stretch of open space. There is a beautiful haze in the background. The horses and the wagon wheels cause clouds of dust. The picture is gorgeous. No artist would be believed should he paint it. Twenty times the scene is taken.

The cameras move in close to the ring. Carefully the operators measure the distance. From the lens to the Tramp. He is alone in the center of the ring.

He rehearses. Then action for camera. Eighty feet. The business is done again. And again! And again! Fifty persons are looking on. All members of the company. There are few eyes that are not moist. Most of them know the story. They knew the meaning of this final “shot.”

“How was that?” came inquiring from the Tramp. Fifty heads nodded in affirmation. “Then we’ll take it again; just once more” spoke the man in the baggy pants and derby hat and misfit coat and dreadnought shoes. The sun was getting high. The long shadows became shorter and shorter. “Call it a day,” said the Tramp, “we’ll be here again tomorrow at four.”

Chaplin is then described watching the rushes at three o’clock the following morning:

The little fellow in the big black leather chair was no longer the Tramp. But he was watching him on the screen. Charlie Chaplin was passing judgment. “He should do that much better.” “He doesn’t ring true.” “He has his derby down too far over his eyes.” “They have burned his face up with those reflectors.” A severe critic, this Chaplin. The Tramp doesn’t please him. The stuff must be retaken. A leap from the leather chair. Speed, dust, location.”

(Unknown source, reprinted in Chaplin: His Life & Art by David Robinson)


  1. I remember reading about how some college kids stole all the circus wagons for some bonfire towards the end of filming. I can only imagine how pissed Charlie the perfectionist was when he wanted to re-film the ending and found the set pieces gone.

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