“When the Devil pulls the strings, all the world must dance.”
The world has a funny way of working for some people. There are forces in the universe, call it fate if you would like that control what is supposed to happen in our lives. We can be brought into someone’s life or they can be brought into our lives when they/we are needed most. Certain situations, also good and bad, happen to test us, to have us learn from, and to make us stronger. The silent film The Devil’s Circus takes the idea of fate and putting their characters into certain situations and mixes them pretty well.
The year is 1913. A young man named Carl has just been released from prison. Before he leaves a priest hands Carl a bible. Carl hands the bible back to the priest. The priest tells Carl that the bible will take him away from sin and that those who reject God will come back to prison. As soon as Carl is back in the city he immediately goes back to his old ways.
A young country girl named Mary (Norma Shearer) arrives in the city that same night. She has no family and believes in God. Mary sees Carl as she exits the train station. She asks him if he knows a place where she can stay for the night. Carl points to a place across the street but it is full. He brings Mary to his place for the night. He sees Mary has a bible in her. She explains that her mother gave it to her and that God is always there for her. Carl sits next to her and tries to kiss her. She jumps up and he takes her hand. Mary does not try to take her hand away from Carl. He asks her if she has ever been kissed and she answers honestly that she never has. He gives Mary his room that night and he will go stay somewhere else. He comes into the room to try to kiss her. He apologizes to Mary for what he did he has never met a girl like her before and he really likes her.
Mary answers an ad in the paper for a circus performer. She has brought her very well trained dog to the city with her and wants to audition him for an act. As soon as the ringleader Hugo lays his eyes on Mary all he can think about is his lust for her. Hugo’s girlfriend Yonna is extremely jealous and tries to get Mary out of the circus before she can even be hired.
Weeks go by. Carl tries to clean himself up for Mary even though he is continuing his life as a criminal. Mary is now part of the circus. She seems to be oblivious to Hugo’s flirting. All his flirting is driving Yonna insane. She threatens to have Mary fired and even kill her if she does not leave Hugo alone. Yonna even says to Carl that Mary is the devil trying to steal Hugo she is not a faithful girl. As he walks out of the circus someone he knows tells Carl to just marry Mary to take her away from the circus life. Carl leaves a letter for Mary that he will come by and visit her that night.
Hugo goes to Mary’s dressing room. The two of them are alone. He gets close to Mary and tells her he wants her in his new aerial act. He pulls her in and passionately kisses her. At that moment Yonna comes into the room. She flies into a rage threatening with venom and rage that she will kill Mary.
That night Carl tries to break into someone’s house. He is seen and the homeowner shoots him in the hand. He goes to Mary’s house he had promised. She sees his hand and he tells her what has happened. He tries to explain that he wants to change it is just hard. Mary is upset but she lets him know that she knows he is not all that bad. The police have tracked Carl down and they arrest him. As they take him out Mary tells Carl she loves him and she will wait for him.
The following year the circus goes on tour. Mary is given her own wagon. Hugo forces his way in one night. The shame and broken heartedness make her unable to write to Carl in prison. Carl cannot understand why Mary has stopped writing for him and waits for her letters like a little boy every day.
The circus arrives back in the city. Mary has being doing trapeze stunts. Yonne is still extremely jealous of Mary and the way Hugo gives her so much attention. She walks near the lever to the rope and loosens it. Because of the slack in the rope Mary misses and comes crashing to the ground. Fortunately she survives.
World War I happens and over a period of five years Carl and Mary are separated from each other. At War’s end Mary is selling paper dolls on the street. An old friend of hers, a Mrs. Peterson, sees her on the street. Mrs. Peterson brings Mary back to her place. The woman has a surprise for Mary. Her surprise is Carl who has cleaned up his ways after fight in the War and still loves Mary for than ever did. In order to move forward Mary tells Carl what happened to her in the circus and what Hugo did to her that one night. Carl is enraged and for a few days goes out on a hunt to track down Hugo and Yonne.
A man brings Carl to Hugo. Hugo has gone blind from the War and is forced to beg. Yonne comes into the room and tells Carl that she had spent five years in jail for what she did to Mary. There I no need for Carl to kill either one of them they have already had their punishment.
The Devil’s Circus was pretty good. As I said I liked how fate played a part in all the characters’ lives. I like the use of fate in stories. As I also mentioned above I believe in fate. I believe in it very strongly. We are all meant to see things in life and experience things in life and meet people we are supposed to meet. None of the characters have a truly happy life but their fates intertwined with who they met and their circumstances. The Devil’s Circus is definitely worth seeing especially for Norma Shearer who was a beautiful twenty-six year old with her acting on point. The Devil’s Circus is available to view in part on YouTube.