At first it might seem uninspired—or at least redundant—to put Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp in a circus. You would think he’d be better employed in everyday situations, where his unintended slapstick disruptions stand out among regular folks, rather than competing as a clown amongst clowns. But soon it becomes clear that Chaplin, fresh off the success of The Gold Rush and on the cusp of masterpieces like City Lights and Modern Times, is using The Circus to deliver something of a meta-commentary on his own comic genius. Auditioning to join a troupe of clowns, the Tramp is shown their “William Tell” act, involving a bow and arrow and an apple. It’s funny enough—the two clowns in the act can’t resist eating the apple, so they never get around to loosing the arrow—but it’s nothing compared to what the Tramp unwittingly enacts when he gets a chance to try it. (Let’s just say it involves swapping the apple for a banana.) He’s hired, which leads to a moment where he serves as the emergency understudy for a tightrope walker. What follows is one of Chaplin’s all-time great sequences, involving actual wire work, sleight of hand, and mischievous, impressively trained monkeys. Watching the Tramp project a regal air of showmanship amidst all the anarchy nearly always leaves me in tears. The Circus also involves an unrequited romance for the Tramp with the ringmaster’s daughter (Merna Kennedy), lending the film Chaplin’s signature touch of sentimentality. But mostly the movie registers as a comedy flag being planted, a claim being made. Anything your average clown could do, Chaplin could do better.