Part 6 in an Indefinite Anthology

Today’s Trending Topic: The Devil’s Circus


According to Wikipedia, The Devil’s Circus is a 1928 silent drama film. I found out about this film rather serendipitously— I started naming my URL slugs for each of my five previous posts within this blog, and while contemplating a unique and creative URL for my Circus Diablo post, I concluded that “The Devil’s Circus” was a good name. Lo and behold, a Google search— conducted largely for SEO purposes— informed me that The Devil’s Circus is a real and wholly separate entity; moreover, it is an entity all but lost and abandoned, much like the band whose name it may have possibly inspired.

The film was directed by a Dane named Benjamin Christensen, who may have one of the most troubling noses in history. Despite very likely suffering from Pinocchio syndrome— the fable of Pinocchio was first entrenched within Western culture as a serial when he was two years of age— Christensen would live to age 80, serving as “a film director, screenwriter and an actor both in film and on the stage.”

The most famous film in which he had involvement was arguably Häxan, an overly-ambitious, largely acclaimed Swedish-Danish dramatized documentary that came six years before The Devil’s Circus. With an opulent budget of 2 million Swedish kroners, the film examined how unfounded superstition and mental disease could lead innocent individuals to being subject to witch-hunts. It received heavy acclaim in Sweden and Denmark, but did not receive as warm of a reception in other countries, with many sovereign states heavily censoring it. The United States, the paragon of free speech, went as far as outright banning the film. (Perhaps history played somewhat of a role.) This is a simple example of the limitations of the First Amendment.

Christensen’s most famous acting role was likely in Michael, a German silent film that was largely panned by contemporaries, but has still left a legacy. It was one of the first notable films to portray homosexuality, and was based on a book by Herman Bang, a man who I sincerely doubt “banged” many women (or men) during his lifetime. Many critics cited Christensen’s performance as being a bright spot in the film.

Christensen’s output was mostly in German, Danish, or English. As aforementioned, much of it has sunk to depths so hidden that even the most daring of pirates have been unable to discover it, much less share it with the public. That is, if there even is an intact original or copy somewhere in the stratosphere. The Devil’s Circus was long considered to be in this domain— a lost film— although it was since “rediscovered and has been preserved by George Eastman House.”

The lead section of the article speaks further to this phenomenon:

It was the first of seven films directed by Christensen in the United States, and one of only four of those films that have not been lost.

The Most Complicated Plot Ever

The following is the plot provided on Wiki about The Devil’s Circus:

The Devil's Circus Plot

Disregarding issues of grammar and clarity— which I may delve further into later— I will attempt to offer my interpretation of this paucity of a plot.

Mary (played by Norma Shearer) is probably somehow associated with a weirdo named Carlstop— it is not out of the realm of the imagination that this moniker was derived from Mary screaming “Carl! Stop!,” while Carlstop sexually assaulted Mary; I mean look at that creepy smile of the actor playing him— and they walk into an area where they are knowingly persona non grata. It is well known that Lieberkind is the finest lion-tamer in all the lands.

Mary and Carlstop, despite their impending rape litigation, decide that they make good partners in crimeSee, Mary never told Carlstop that she had the ability to finish an act in more ways than one. He thought she was just some stupid, talentless broad.

They hatch a plan to rob Lieberkind of his immense wealth through distraction. It is well known that Lieberkind has had extramarital affairs with Mary; it was covered all over the news, making Yonna not only jealous, but considering a legally justified divorce. It is also well documented that Lieberkind is very frugal, and will go to any means to obtain free or cheap entertainment, particularly when there are stunning women involved.

Thus, Mary and Carlstop start their own circus company, aptly named after their to-be-exposed naughty intentions: “The Devil’s Circus”. Most of their performances attract somewhere in the range of one to 111 people, but thanks to promotion from Lieberkind himself, a show in remote Pumpkinville, OH garners over 11,111 individuals. Lieberkind does this because he is provided with a VIP, skybox suite for 11 cents.

It is important to note that Lieberkind is distrustful of banks. Therefore, he carries all of his money with him at all times. Precisely, $11,111,111 in unadjusted currency. All but $11 is in $100 denominations. He holds these $100 bills in stacks of 111.

Throughout the show, Lieberkind is enamored and distracted. He begins throwing multiple stacks at Mary by the end of the show, as an act of amoration admiration. This is where the “fatal” part comes into play— Mary, unfortunately, falls and becomes severely injured in the process. Carlstop, therefore, is only marginally needed to pull off the heist of a lifetime. He becomes fanatically fatalistic and depressed about life, as he realizes that he is not only an amateur, but he won’t be able to employ the services of the best defense lawyers in Ohio.

After many failed attempts at evading Lieberkind’s henchmen, he ends up “stealing” a single stack of cash. The stack was one left behind, under a seat, by Lieberkind after departing.

End results? Carlstop is executed for being a sorry little witch, Lieberkind divorces Yonna to marry Mary, and all is well in Pumpkinville.

I’m pretty positive that’s how the full plot of this 70 minute film goes.

Helping Wiki Out

Clearly, this article is in need of expansion and revision. Wikipedia goes as far as to say so, by making the following suggestion:

Wikipedia Stub Article

Let’s first start with the plot. Unfortunately, IMDb does not provide any plot background, spare for a single user review that is very vague and nondescript. I did find somewhat of a plot description from Moviefone, however. This is the final result of my efforts to improve the section, borrowing from Moviefone:

Wikipedia Synopsis Section

I think this reads much better, while also providing a little more detail. I would have mentioned the actor’s name directly after their character’s name in parenthesis— e.g. “Mary (Shearer)”— but I found it to be redundant since the cast details come right after this section.

I also decided it’d be smart to add a section that I find important in gauging whether a film is worth my time: the “Reception” section. There were only two obstacles. First, I’ve never added entire sections to Wikipedia articles. Fortunately, this was not hard to figure out— one simply clicks on “Edit” at the top of the page, and then follows Wikipedia’s relatively simple syntax. (I knew much of the syntax already, but hadn’t applied it in such a manner.)

The other problem was even more simple: there are no critic reviews from Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic for this film. Therefore, I would have to utilize the generally unvalued reviews of “users.” Squared in red is the section I added.

Wikipedia Reception Section

There are a couple of things I could correct or better, depending upon if I want to spend another minute or two actually optimizing something that no one will probably give a crap about.

For starters, I could’ve “blue linked” the word “IMDb”. I also could have added a citation to the “Reception” section, although it doesn’t make too much of a difference. (Come to think of it, the “Synopsis” section should probably have a citation from Moviefone.)

Ultimately, this article is still a “stub”, but there’s not much more I could add without actually watching the film.


The Devil’s Circus was filmed seven years after Norma Shearer’s debut on the big screen, and was one of only four films in which she acted in that year. (The prior year, 1925, she had starred in eight films, seven of which have Wikipedia pages.) It marked the beginning of the end of her roles in silent films— her final silent film came in 1928.

Her co-star (the creepy guy) was Charles Emmett Mack. Charles Mack Wikipedia EntryHe had his formal career as an actor end a year later in 1927. His career would see him appear in a total of 17 films over 11 years. Other than his creepy grin, I am bothered by the fact that Mack has three pictures
on his relatively short Wikipedia page, one for each section. The fact that his spousal information is confusing only further bothers me.

Prior to my edit of the page, no one had touched the page since February 5th. Before that, no one had touched it since May 19th, 2015. I think it’s fairly evident that edits have been few and far between, simply because there isn’t a wealth of information to add.

As a final thought, I found it interesting that the film’s Danish director chose North American actors to play each of the film’s main characters. This serves as a stark contrast to the clusterfuck— excuse my French— that was Troll 2. Choosing people who actually speak the language natively— or at least fluently— to play parts in your film is pretty damn important.

Quote of the Day:

“My last name was McNerney. You’re trying to tell me Mack isn’t better?” — Charles Mack

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