Tag Archives: Merna Kennedy

The Circus (1928, Charles Chaplin)

The Circus has a melancholic tone it doesn’t need and one director Chaplin is never fully invested in. The first half of the film is a series of fantastic gags–well, except the stuff with ring master Al Ernest Garcia being abusive to his daughter, played by Merna Kennedy. But the rest of it is hilarious. Chaplin, as the tramp, bumbles his way into the circus and the audience’s heart (while all the regular acts flop).

Chaplin’s gags are careful and deliberate–there’s a great mirror maze one and the circus act stuff is hilarious. It seems the tramp can’t figure out how to make the audience laugh when he’s trying to do so, only when he’s a bumbler. And he’s unaware of it.

Until around halfway, when Kennedy lets him in on the secret and he gets some bravado. That bravado leads to a decent sequence when he’s full of himself, but he immediately loses it because Harry Crocker shows up (in the late second act) to make a love triangle with Kennedy.

Now, Kennedy never has much of a character, but her friendship with Chaplin’s much better than her romantic interest in Crocker. Chaplin, as director and writer, is invested in the former. The latter is just for melodramatic purposes. Even if the first half does feel like a series of vignettes, they’re fabulous vignettes. The rest of the film is just Chaplin working for that melancholy.

It’s a shame the energy doesn’t maintain throughout the entire film.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written, edited, directed and produced by Charles Chaplin; director of photography, Roland Totheroh; released by United Artists.

Starring Al Ernest Garcia (The Circus Proprietor and Ring Master), Merna Kennedy (His Step-Daughter – A Circus Rider), Harry Crocker (Rex – A Tight Rope Walker), George Davis (A Magician), Henry Bergman (An Old Clown), Tiny Sandford (The Head Property Man), John Rand (An Assistant Property Man), Steve Murphy (A Pickpocket) and Charles Chaplin (A Tramp).


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Don’t Bet On Love (1933, Murray Roth)

Ayres is a degenerate gambler (who cleans up nice) and Rogers is the girl who loves him, despite herself, of course, in this breezy melodrama. In terms of particulars, it has almost nothing to recommend it. Ayres is a little bit too believable as the callous lead, who purposely eschews all advice as he lucks into horse win after horse win (at least if he’d had a system, it might seem purposeful, but apparently, he just guesses well). It makes for problems with making him sympathetic. He doesn’t deserve a happy ending, much less one where Rogers saves him from homelessness.

As for Rogers, she’s a little bit better than Ayres, but she’s uneven in this regular girl role. It’s unbelievable she’d wait ten minutes for Ayres, much less two or three years.

The best acting is from Charley Grapewin as Ayres’s father and Tom Dugan as his sidekick. Grapewin masterfully combines the knowing elder with the concerned parent, with a dash of the disapproving parent thrown in. His performance might be the film’s showiest in some ways, but it’s also the truest. Dugan’s just the faithful sidekick, who only has to be sturdy when Ayres’s acting like a gambling addict moron, which comes up a lot in the second half. And Dugan does have the film’s only funny sequence.

Roth’s direction isn’t flashy–he does move the camera for dramatic effect quite a bit, sometimes to good effect–but it’s solid.

Don’t Bet on Love‘s almost a decent hour.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Murray Roth; written by Howard Emmett Rogers, Roth and Ben Ryan; director of photography, Jackson Rose; edited by Robert Carlisle; music by David Klatzkin; produced by Carl Laemmle Jr.; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Lew Ayres (Bill McCaffery), Ginger Rogers (Molly Gilbert), Charley Grapewin (Pop McCaffery), Shirley Grey (Goldie Williams), Tom Dugan (Scotty), Merna Kennedy (Ruby ‘Babe’ Norton), Lucile Gleason (Mrs. Gilbert) and Robert Emmett O’Connor (Edward Shelton).


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