The Circus Clown (1934)
This is one of those remarkable films that is remarkable because the photographs themselves record something that no longer exists. The ‘golden age’ of American live entertainment is a tiny sliver of history happening roughly between 1865 and 1942 (you’ll notice that the bookends are wars…it’s not accidental). During this time, the biggest entertainment celebrities were circus performers, magicians, and music hall comedians. Charlie Chaplain, Laurel and Hardy, Harold Lloyd, and a huge number of other early Hollywood stars learned everything they knew on these stages.
Like any economic bubble, the big-tent circus had to pop, and pop it did…Ringling Brothers finally finished dying in 2017, but all of its contemporary copycats like Sells Floto went down much earlier. Between the movie industry and the Great Depression, the twentieth century was a complete slaughter for traditional live entertainment. It will never be what it was 100 years ago.
Lucky for us, a few old movies (like this one) offer us a taste of what these shows were really like. The story is useless, the writing is amateur, and the performances (acting wise) are thin at best, BUT that’s not why you watch this movie. You watch it because it’s a thinly written veil for a series of Vaudeville and circus acts from this special time period. Not preserved, resurrected, or re-imagined, but literally as they were done by the people who did them for 20 years at a time. It’s an indispensable record of an entertainment world we dispensed with long ago.
TCM plays incredible stuff at 3 AM…