Hearing Aid or Cell Phone in Chaplin's 'The Circus' from 1928?

The following video is getting folks excited after Roger Ebert posted it on his blog with only a quote from the reader that sent it to him. Here's the quote:

It's quite a coincidence (for me anyway) that you recently included "The Circus" into your great movies collection. I received this link yesterday from my Aunt. It's a video exploring an unusual moment in the film which shows an extra who appears to be talking on a cell phone! It is a bit weird actually.

So, is it possible a time traveler went back in time and started talking on a cell phone in the 1920s when there were no cell towers? Or were there perhaps several time travelers working at AT&T trying to set up towers and try and convince iPhone users they've been covering the world since the late 20s?

Or, just maybe it's a hearing aid such as the one pictured to the right and described here?

Watch the video and decide for yourself and if, like me, you're too lazy to watch the rather long introduction you can fast forward to about the 2:30 mark and check out the footage.

  • Karl Gent

    As much as I want to believe the lady is holding a cell phone, it's more than likely she has a dated hearing device or is merely shielding her face from the cameras. Although maybe if The Observer can be found somewhere in the video then we have a real case.

    Debate aside, this video has catapulted George Clarke into the spotlight. /Film, Ebert and yourself have all given him coverage. Aspiring film makers take heed and start playing Where's Waldo with DVD Easter Eggs x

  • Joe

    I love how the guy in the video is like "the only conclusion I can come up with is it's a time traveler". Really? That's the only conclusion you can come up with?? The footage barely shows anything. A dude has his hand to his head, and the only conclusion is time travel?? Yep sounds about right.

  • Dude111

    It could be something!!!!

    If you look CLOSELY you can see a black shadow just ahead of thier hand!!

    Who knows.......

  • Julio Trujillo

    Could be a walkie-talkie or small radio.

    If I'm going to the extreme, I would say alien visitor or ancient astronaut. They certainly have communication devices, and there's more "evidence" of aliens than for time travel.

    • Jared

      Neither walkie-talkies nor radios (or the batteries used to power them) were that small in 1928.

  • burtkev

    I think it's just a hearing aid, and the person is trying to adjust it hence the hand's actions. The movement of the mouth is probably when the person makes sound to test the device?

  • Rudy Frimmel
    • Anne Wright

      That's IT! Occam's Razor wins again...

    • Sally

      Bravo, Rudy..This could be what they are doing. It would be very hard to disprove this, now. The link you gave was awesome. As far as the dress, it could be a very large, butch of a woman. Men also had long coats and hats. It is possible. It was a movie premiere. When he/she walked into the line of the camera, they must've realized what they did and said TO THEMSELVES, "oh, gees, there's a camera thing and I don't want to be any part of that". I would've said it.

  • Neil
  • Melba Vaughn


    It seems to me it could possibly be some type of walkie-talkie, not a cellphone.

  • CG

    Don't you need someone else with a cell phone to be on the other end of the conversation?

  • korkut atalan

    its obvious that it is not an iphone4, because she is holding it on her left hand :)

  • Ciaran L

    It's a small carbon audiophone hearing aid invented by Western Electric in 1925 - looks just like a mobile phone. Google it!!! I bet she's just testing the batteries by talking into the microphone.

  • Julio Trujillo

    It's interesting that the apparent device winning is a hearing aid, and it probably is. Already found that walkie-talkies were not available that year and radios were not portable yet.

    Although a hearing aid it might be, the first linked was a good width, but too long, at almost 7 inches. The others shown are used like headphones, so why is the person holding to the ear...to hear better? But why is he talking into the thing? The microphone is somewhere else.

    If you download the video and use Nero Showtime, you can use it's zoom to watch closer. The thing seems longer than the hand, so maybe that first device still has a chance.