Creator/CharlieChaplin as The Tramp, who, while running away from the police (who mistook him for a pickpocket) runs into a circus big top and is an (unintentional) comedy hit. The circus owner finds that Charlie can't be funny when they want him to be, so he gets a job as a janitor who "accidentally" winds up as part of the act every night.
Charlie falls in love with the owner's daughter, Merna the circus rider, and determines to save her from her abusive father. She however only considers him a friend, and instead falls in love with Rex, the circus' tightrope walker. Charlie tries to impress her by also learning to walk the tightrope, but almost gets killed in the process.
Eventually, Merna runs away from the Circus, so the Tramp convinces Rex to marry her to keep her safe. They then return to the circus, but Charlie stays behind, going back to being a tramp.
Less well remembered than his previous effort, ''Film/TheGoldRush'', or his next features ''Film/CityLights'' and ''Film/ModernTimes''. Plagued with production difficulties both internal (a fire destroyed much of the set) and external (production took place during Chaplin's ugly, public divorce battle with Lita Grey, causing Chaplin to smuggle portions of the film out of Hollywood to prevent Grey's attorneys from seizing it.)
Chaplin was awarded a special AcademyAward for "versatility and genius in acting, writing, directing and producing ''The Circus''".
!This film provides examples of:
* AbusiveParents: Merna's father is quite cruel to her.
* AllPartOfTheShow: The Tramp gets chased by the cops through the circus, to the delight of the crowd.
* BadBadActing: The Tramp can't be funny on command.
* BadBoss: The circus owner.
* BittersweetEnding: The Tramp frees the girl from her father, but loses her, and is left alone, leading him back to tramping again, but he gets over his funk with his usual aplomb and is on his way with his usual hopeful spirit intact.
* [[TheRunaway The Circus Runaway:]] Inverted, Merna runs away ''from'' it.
* TheDanza: Merna, played by Merna Kennedy.
* DeniedFoodAsPunishment: Merna, by her father.
* DoItYourselfThemeTune: "Swing, Little Girl", sung by Chaplin
* EverythingsBetterWithMonkeys: Averted when Chaplin is plagued by monkeys while performing a high-wire routine.
* FriendZone: Merna cares a lot for the Tramp but only as a friend, and never realizes what he feels for her.
* HallOfMirrors: possibly the TropeMaker.
* HotPursuit: By a cop, through a HallOfMirrors and into a circus tent. Probably the CrowningMomentOfFunny.
* IJustWantMyBelovedToBeHappy: This is why Charlie decides to convince Rex to marry Merna, even after she was willing to run away to join him in being homeless.
* NiceKitty: Charlie in the lion cage.
* NoNameGiven: except for Merna and her boyfriend Rex, no one has names.
* RomanticFalseLead: The Tramp for Merna and Rex.
* PlotHole: Rex's absence on the day Charlie had to replace him was never explained.
** and why did the mule hate Charlie so much?
* PlotInducedStupidity: Charlie was hilarious when he stumbled into the big top show, but he can't be funny on command. The circus master's solution is to have Charlie "accidentally" stumble into the act over and over again. Somehow Charlie does not figure out he is star of the show.