Friday, November 11, 2016

Tonight's Movie: The Big Circus (1959)

Note: This post on THE BIG CIRCUS (1959) is my contribution to the At the Circus Blogathon hosted by Le at Critica Retro and Summer of Serendipitous Anachronisms. The blogathon runs this weekend, November 12-13, with a sequel weekend planned for late November or early December. Please visit the blogathon for links to more entries on circus films!

THE BIG CIRCUS (1959) is an Irwin Allen production for Allied Artists. It's a fairly elaborate film for a company often associated with lower-budget movies. Although much of the film takes place in just one set, the big top, the circus scenes look terrific. Even better, the film stars a deep cast of most enjoyable faces.

Victor Mature plays Henry Jasper Whirling, proprietor of the Whirling Circus. The circus has struggled since Hank parted ways with his partners, but he receives a bank loan on the condition that a bank employee, Randy (Red Buttons), travel with the circus and monitor expenditures. Randy is initially dubious about circus life, until he gets to know Hank's cute little sister Jeannie (Kathryn Grant).

Randy hires an ace publicist, Helen (Rhonda Fleming), much to Hank's annoyance, but it's clear that Hank and Helen's sparring masks an attraction.

Other members of the circus family include ringmaster Hans Hagenfeld (Victor Price), star clown Skeeter (Peter Lorre), and the members of a high wire act, Tony (Gilbert Roland), Maria (Adele Mara), and Tommy (David Nelson).

The script, by producer Allen along with Irving Wallace and Charles Bennett, is fairly pedestrian, yet the film is quite engaging thanks to the top cast and the Technicolor CinemaScope filming of Oscar-winning cinematographer Winton C. Hoch. Pretty much every twist and turn of the plot went as expected, but I must say I quite enjoyed it.

I particularly liked Roland and Mara as a devoted couple and wished the film had had time to more deeply explore their relationship. With such a big cast, everyone has a moment to shine but none of the characters have much depth. That said, I also found Price quite good as a top professional in his field. Mature and Fleming are always enjoyable, and all in all the film is a fun watch.

Price and Mature, incidentally, had costarred in an Irwin Allen production half a decade previously, DANGEROUS MISSION (1954).

The aerial scenes are quite well done, smoothly edited between the real aerialists and the actors. The crossing of a back projection Niagara Falls is a little less successful visually, but the scene works thanks to the charismatic Roland.

THE BIG CIRCUS runs 109 minutes. It was directed by Joseph M. Newman.

It's available on DVD in a beautiful print from the Warner Archive. There are no extras.


Blogger Jerry E said...

I recall going to see "THE BIG CIRCUS" on the big screen in 1959 and enjoying it quite a lot. I also seem to recall it topped a good double bill but am struggling to recall just what it was teamed with - possibly a western ("FACE OF A FUGITIVE", "GOOD DAY FOR A HANGING" maybe?).

11:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always liked this film and never guessed who was causing all the trouble!

12:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Laura, thank you for your contribution, I look forward to reading your post in depth!

4:43 PM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

I remember watching this when I was a kid and, honestly, my heart was in my stomach watching Gilbert Roland on the tightrope. When I watched it a few years ago, I was a kid again. This is what I call "a movie".

9:20 AM  
Blogger Maricatrin said...

As you say, it's worth seeing for the cast alone! All in all, I liked it much better than some other Irwin Allen films. Agree about Roland and Mara, but as a result of Mara's early exit, at least Roland got to do what was probably the best acting in the film (and yes, he was quite the pro in selling the Niagara scene!)

10:25 AM  
Blogger LĂȘ said...

Peter Lorre and Gilbert Roland? I need this film in my life NOW!
Actually, I hope that by the grand finale weekend I'll have watched almost all films covered in the blogathon.
Thanks for joining us, Laura, it was great to have you among our guests!

2:28 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you all so much for the comments!

Jerry, I love that you saw this when it came out! I can imagine the impression it would make on a kid on the big screen.

Vienna, I didn't guess either, I had the wrong person pegged!

Summer, thank you for hosting, I really enjoyed it!

Caftan Woman, love you also have childhood memories of this one. Gilbert Roland is great.

Speaking of Roland, I agree, Maricatrin, he was really good, in multiple scenes. A fun and at times moving movie.

Best wishes,

11:35 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you, Le! I appreciate the work you and Summer have done hosting! I hope you'll enjoy THE BIG CIRCUS, it's quite fun. :)

Best wishes,

12:30 PM  
Blogger FlickChick said...

Any film with Gilbert Roland in any part gets my vote! I have very fond memories of this film. Thanks for the reminder!

3:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, wow, wow! What a cast, why has this film been off my radar? Thank you for such a fantastic contribution to #AtTheCircus! I really enjoyed this post!

9:16 PM  
Blogger Elliot James said...

I've seen The Big Circus many times and it remains one of my favorites. Corny, yes, melodramatic, yes, but loads of fun. Victor Mature is the actor Sylvester Stallone wanted to be. Peter Lorre was an odd choice but the first time I saw it I thought he was the psycho.

7:04 PM  

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