Wednesday, March 3, 2021

The Big Circus

Some months back, the TCM spotlight was movies about the circus. This gave me the chance to record The Big Circus, which I hadn't seen in ages, and do a post on it now.

Victor Mature is the star, playing Hank Whirling, the proprietor of one of those traveling circuses that sets up a real big top and goes from town to town by train. However, he just lost his partner, Jules Borman, who was bigger and better financed, so the Whirling Circus is in a parlous state. Indiied, in order to go on the next tour, the bank is only going to provide a loan if they can send one of their employees, Randy Sherman (Red Buttons) on the tour to see that the money is being managed properly.

Actually, they send two people, as Randy brings along Helen Harrison (Rhonda Fleming). Her job is as a press agent, which miffs Whirling in part because nobody told him about this, and in part because she's a woman, and he doesn't know whether lady press agents can handle the difficult circus world if they're not the talent or born into it.

One who was born into it was Hank's kid sister Jeannie (Kathryn Grant). In fact, she has just enough talent that she could start practicing with the trapeze act, which includes Zach (Gilbert Roland), who also does the high wire, and Zach's spotter Tommy (David Nelson). But Hank doesn't want Jeannie doing the acts, especially not a dangerous one like the trapeze. Rounding out the major members of this circus are Skeeter the Clown (Peter Lorre in his fat period) and ringmaster Hans Hagenfeld (Vincent Price).

There's a fair amount of conflict since Randy and Helen are all business, and Hank thinks they don't understand the circus business. But there's going to be more conflict. One involves Jeannie's practicing with Zach, and another involves Skeeter getting too drunk to perform. Indeed, in one scene, Randy realizes the show must goes on and takes Skeeter's place in the performance of the clowns, even though he doesn't know the routine.

The biggest problem, however, comes when somebody decides to sabotage the circus, with half the train crashing and killing, among others, Zach's wife. This sends him into a deep funk. That's really a problem since the way for Whirling to save the circus is to get a performance in New York. For the publicity, Whirling's plan was to have Zach to a tightrope walk across Niagara Falls, which was actually performed for the first time a century before The Big Circus, by Charles Blondin. Needless to say, one needs to have all one's faculties and be in the right mental state to do something so dangerous....

There have been a lot of circus movies released, and as with submarine movies there aren't too many distinct plots one can do. So in that regard, The Big Circus isn't terribly original. It's competently made, and the circus performances are nice, but the movie as a whole isn't terribly memorable. It'll certainly entertain you for one watch, however.

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