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After a bad fall from the trapeze, POLLY OF THE CIRCUS recuperates in
the home of a handsome young clergyman.
Marion Davies uses her considerable talent to enliven this piece of inconsequential fluff, making it an enjoyable time waster. As the mistress of one of the country's most powerful men, she could have easily demanded a solemn spectacle to spotlight her skills. But her ego did not run in that direction and, as always, she's a delight to watch--even though the film itself (which she also produced) is exceedingly silly.
MGM&'s newest young leading man, Clark Gable, is quietly effective as the rector who wins Davies' heart. Cast somewhat against type, he gives an earnest portrayal of a man devoted to God above almost anything else. The macho mannerisms which later became such a dominate part of his screen roles are largely missing here. And it’s obvious that he never forgets that he's the co-star -- Marion Davies is the one who gets to shine.
Wonderful old Sir C. Aubrey Smith lends his grave dignity to the role of Gable's uncle, the bishop. Elderly Raymond Hatton steals a couple of scenes as the rectory's self-righteous, alcoholic servant. David Landau is effective as the goodhearted circus manager. Comic actress Maude Eburne appears all too briefly as Davies’ Irish nurse--but the viewer is treated to Davies' impersonation of her.
Movie mavens will recognize an unbilled Ray Milland as a church usher.
Although obviously using actual trapeze artists as stunt doubles, the aerial sequences under the circus big top are still nerve-wracking to watch.
Marion Davies and Clark Gable makes movie enjoyable. It's not the best classic movie but if you have nothing to do and have 70 mins to spare you'll like it. It's short and sweet, if it was longer maybe that would of been a problem. Marion Davies always makes a film enjoyable. Movie Historians try to say that the only reason Marion was a movie star was because of her association with William Randolph Hearst, that's not true. Marion always gave good performances, if she didn't maybe I would think that. Marion was good with comedy and drama which she displays in this movie. Marion was a fine comedian, fine actress, great with facial expressions and gestures, and natural. This movie is a Marion Davies production. She was good with coming up with plots and stories and getting great cast. Clark Gable is good in whatever he is. This movie isn't his greatest. But Clark Gable fans would like to see this.
Polly of the Circus (1932)
** (out of 4)
Disappointing and way too corny romance between a bad girl trapeze artist (Marion Davies) and a preacher (Clark Gable). After an accident while working, Davies is forced to stay at the home of Gable and soon the two fall in love but the church objects to their relationship. This is an extremely disappointing film from MGM who certainly had better luck in their other 1932 film to be set in the circus and that of course would be Tod Browning's FREAKS. It's interesting to note that none of the circus performers from that film can be seen here. With that out of the way, this film here offers very little in terms of originality as it follows the same guidelines of countless other pre-code stories from the era. We know that opposites are going to attract. We know the church will object. We know this issue will cause problems in the relationship. We know what this is going to do and so on and so forth. The movie starts off rather good as the two stars work well together but it quickly falls apart and ends up being rather boring. Davies has a few strange line deliveries but for the most part she fits the role quite well. She's very believable as this character and brings a lot of life to it but the screenplay doesn't allow her too much as her character is written rather one sided. Gable gives another very impressive, pre-fame performance and I must admit that my respect for him grows each time I see one of these forgotten films on TCM. He manages to bring a lot of passion and fire to the role and delivers some nice work. C. Aubrey Smith is wasted as the Reverend who objects to the romance. Ray Milland can be seen quickly as an usher walking a drunk out of church. Fans of Davies and Gable might want to check this out but I'm sure most will be disappointed with this film that doesn't give the stars much to work with.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Spoilers. Observations. Opinions. 2013 review:
Mr. Gable was bought and paid for by his first wife (his acting coach). She paid to get his teeth repaired and his ears surgically pinned back. Ms. Davies was bought and paid for by a famous publisher. Davies and Gable were set for Hollywood careers. We can in 2013 still see this great pair's performance preserved on screen.
Sinful woman loves a minister, in The Little Minister (Katharine Hepburn, 1934). A gypsy, no doubt. Naturally, the church is horrified. This film came to mind as I watched Polly (a "sinful" circus performer) get attracted to Gable.
Contrast "Polly" with 1936's "San Francisco". Gable is a sleazy nightclub owner, and Spencer Tracy plays the clergy. Gable wants singer Jeanette MacDonald to dress in a skimpy outfit (shades of Polly!), but Tracy sez ixnay. Gable gets converted to religion, after the SF Earthquake.
I realized that Marion would not do her own flying-trapeze stunts here. She made quite a lovely picture, standing on the high platform. Gowns by Adrian? The white pants on the elephant were hilarious, and quite a nice touch.
Update May 4, 2017:
This was from a 1907 story by Margaret Mayo. Polly was a "circus riding girl" -- an equestrienne standing on the back of the horse Bingo while he ran inside the circus ring. This was an anathema to the church, when Polly met the minister.
The real Polly's injury was from falling off Bingo. John Douglas was the minister. Hartley was the last name of the doctor. Mandy, African American, assisted Douglas in nursing Polly back to health -- not Irish Mrs. Jennings, as in this film.
A church deacon is the big troublemaker in the original story, not the minister's uncle as shown in this film.
Looking closely at the in-flight trapeze footage in this film, I see who looks like the famous Alfredo Codona actually doing the (deadly triple) in-air transfers.
Versatile Gable played many character types. He made tons of films in the early sound and pre-code era, playing opposite sirens such as Jean Harlow and Joan Crawford. All actors need to portray sleazy, swashbuckling or nice guy types. Gable could do it all. You can think of Red Dust, It Happened One Night and Mutiny on the Bounty.
Not bad for a boy from the coal mining era in our state of Ohio. I have visited his childhood home, and it is chock full of personal Gable memorabilia. Huuuuuuuuge there is Gone With the Wind. For a fee, the tour guide showed Gable's blue 1950s Cadillac on display in the garage.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Polly of the Circus (1932)
This was a talkie remake of an earlier silent film from 1917 and a stage play that was popular before the last century. But, this movie hasn't aged well for 21st century tastes. It's a pre-Code movie but the issues are so tame (even for the day) that the movie seems kind of corny. Marion Davies' Polly Brown is your typical spunky, frolicking, young circus acrobat heroine from the silent age. She's a free spirit, but totally innocent.
Clark Gable plays Reverend John Hartley for a very small town. The local morality squad is upset about an advertisement for the traveling circus featuring Polly in her leotards. Reverend Hartley fixes the tempers by nailing some clothes over the offending tights.
Polly is injured while doing her act and Reverend Hartley takes her in while she recovers, to the further ire of the old biddies of the local morality squad. Naturally, John and Polly start to fall in love with each other. Despite them marrying, this is serious enough with the community that Hartley is fired from the church.
Reverend James Northcott (C. Aubrey Smith) talks to Polly, making her consider leaving poor John so that he can go back to the calling that he loves so much.
A small town is aghast when "Queen of the Air" aerialist Marion Davies
(as Pauline "Polly" Brown) arrives with her circus. Promotional posters
depicting Ms. Davies in costume are considered too revealing, and
concerned citizens cover her legs. During Davies' trapeze act, a
heckler shouts, "Hey Polly, where's your pants?" This causes Davies
grief and she goes to recover at the nearby home of athletic minister
Clark Gable (as John Hartley). You should be able to figure out what
This is a re-make of "Polly of the Circus" (1917), which starred Mae Marsh and was the first Samuel Goldwyn production...
In the original, Ms. Marsh was a rider who wore a dress; although it was cut above the knees, nobody complained. Marsh went back to the circus to be with ailing "Toby" (the equivalent of this version's "Beef"). The attempts to modernize the story are not successful. Davies and Gable (still not settled on the right pluck for his eyebrows) look good together, but are not convincing in their roles. Watch out for the duster (Raymond Hatton) and the usher (Ray Milland). The too few circus scenes are edited well.
***** Polly of the Circus (2/27/32) Alfred Santell ~ Marion Davies, Clark Gable, Raymond Hatton, C. Aubrey Smith
The year before,Gable had been a salvation army officer ("the laughing sinners") ;in "Polly of the circus" ,he took the plunge and became a minister .Like the precedent work ,it has not aged as well as "possessed" in which Gable played opposite Joan Crawford ,or even "men in white" .The problem is Gable's clergyman uncle who is not prepared to accept an acrobat (of the circus)as his niece :his nephew 's career -he went to college so he should become a bishop- would be in jeopardy and he would be relegated to selling Bibles for about twenty-five measly dollars a week.The best scenes are to be found in the circus ,complete with somersaults (without a safety net)
Davies stars as a trapeze artist who comes into contact with a young
clergyman (Clark Gable). Eventually the two develop a relationship and
much to his family's dismay, they marry.
The film begins to fall apart here with a series of long winded, hard to swallow scenes. The married couple has a falling out over his devotion to the church. Marion realizes for the first time that she is bad for her husband's career. This is so, despite the fact that she has been told this from the moment the two became interested in each other.
After stating her displeasure with his dedication to the church, she turns around and decides she must leave her husband so he can further his career. She is willing to do this because she loves him so much. Marion's plan is to divorce her husband, but when she is told by the reverend (played by C Aubrey Smith) that this is impossible she comes up with another plan. She will go back to the circus and fall during the trapeze act. Committing suicide so then she will no longer be a detriment to her husband's future.
As a rule, I have no problem with ridiculous melodrama. But the screenplay is weak and the acting staid. This film is based on an old chestnut of a play that was probably outdated when it was first filmed in 1917. The wrong side of the tracks girl and the clergyman is a great story in theory, but the film fails to make the relationship believable.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Okay, no rational person would call this a very good movie--the casting
decisions were questionable, the plot hard to believe and it sure was
schmaltzy, but still, somehow, the film was entertaining. However, I
should point out that the film's very respectable score (nearly 8.0) is
to be taken with a grain of salt. It seems that a few years ago, a
group of, well...I have no idea who or why, but it seem s a group of
folks deliberately flooded IMDb with TONS of scores of 10 for every
Marion Davies film (they also did this with Gloria Swanson and William
Haines). It's obvious something is amiss because even her worst films
(and all actors/actresses have bad films) have ridiculously high
scores. For example, in one Davies' biggest flops ("Cain and Mabel")
60% of its ratings are 10! As a comparison, the great "Gone With the
Wind" has only 38% of its scores that high! Now I am NOT saying Davies
was a bad actress--she did some lovely films (such as "Show People").
But, was not a great actress--despite all her ridiculously high scores.
"Polly of the Circus" is, in many ways, a bad film. But, Davies and her co-star, Clark Gable, give it their best. This good acting combined with some lovely cinematography that really made Davies look her best (thanks to the insistence of her lover, William Randolph Hearst). But how can a film receive gobs and gobs of 10s with a plot like this one?! Polly is a circus performer and the citizens of a very straight-laced town are a bit scandalized by these circus folk and their 'circusy' ways. So, when Polly is injured in a fall from the trapeze, the folks begin to talk when the local young minister (an oddly cast Clark Gable) takes her in and nurses her back to health. When the two fall in love, everyone talks and they won't accept their marriage. What happens next is very soapy and silly but because the actors tried their best, it somehow kind of worked...kind of. But, when you think about it (and I advise you NOT to think when you watch the movie), it all comes off as silly and contrived--especially the ending. Not a terrible film, but certainly one that the two stars later regretted having made.
Marion Davies and her famous sugar daddy William Randolph Hearst
selected a curious item for this film. Polly Of The Circus was a
Broadway play in the first decade of the last century which must have
been quite a sight. Looking at the original stage cast included a
family of acrobats for this circus story. This was many years before
Rodgers&Hart produced the ultimate circus show extravaganza, Jumbo.
The play was authored by Margaret Mayo and it premiered on New Year's Eve and ran 160 performances in 1908. Nine years later a film version was done starring Mae Marsh. The story is about a circus trapeze artist whose legs are on prominent display in the poster advertising offending the moral sensibilities of the church folks. The setting is Oneonta, New York and the local bishop of the Episcopal church (and I'm guessing by the vestments the domination)is headquartered there and played by C. Aubrey Smith.
Smith has a young nephew starting out in his church and he's played by Clark Gable. Gable's no more believable here as a minister than he was as a Salvation Army Worker opposite Joan Crawford in Laughing Sinners. But Gable was cast for sex appeal not saintliness.
Davies takes a fall off the trapeze and Gable takes her to his and Smith's house to mend. Of course they fall for each other and a nasty house servant played by Raymond Hatton spreads some vicious gossip. Smith has to listen to it and it derails Gable's promising career in the church.
I imagine Polly Of The Circus was probably something W.R. Hearst saw back in 1908 on stage and liked it and kept in mind for Marion Davies when he started seeing her. It's a quaint old fashioned play, the stuff that Hearst liked for Davies. It was old fashioned in 1932 and certainly is in 2009.
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