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22 out of 24 people found the following review useful:

Riches from Poverty Row

7/10
Author: marcslope
12 April 2001



In a trim and workmanlike 70 minutes, we get barnstorming theatricals, an unfaithful wife, a bastard child, a hotel fire, a circus fire, a speakeasy brawl, and crackling pre-Code dialogue, including this reminiscence from an ex-roustabout: "Why, when I was with the circus, if you had only one black eye they thought you was a pansy!" Victor Schertzinger achieves some resourceful directorial tricks, not always placing the camera where you expect and injecting some expressionistic touches. The cast is game, with Claire Windsor a particular delight as the rotten, selfish wife who gets bumped off in the second reel.

It's a Poverty Row epic -- from Tiffany Studios, to be precise -- but it has what they used to call moxie. And the quick pace and unflinching Depression milieu recall Warners-First National at its best.

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4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

I don't know what this is supposed to be.

3/10
Author: OtwoD from Butt Town
31 May 2017

First of all, the movie I saw was named Hell In A Circus. I don't know why this movie has two names but I do know that neither one makes much sense. The story is definitely not about a woman so I don't see how they thought The Constant Woman was a good title and there's no mention of a circus until the last ten minutes but Hell In A Circus is still a more fitting title. They spend way too much time showing actors on stage and people walking through hallways and almost no time on a plot. We see two different plays end(neither get applause from the audience), a fifteen minute speakeasy scene that was completely pointless, extended periods of silence and lots of plot holes.There is literally no story here. I was impressed that the people spoke like it was made today. I've seen movies ten and twenty years newer than this where the dialog was ridiculously dated. Plus the acting wasn't bad. Three stars.

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4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

Not quite good enough for 8. Say seven and a half,

7/10
Author: JohnHowardReid
28 November 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Eugene O'Neill rides again in this multi-plotted "Hell in a Circus" expansion of his one-act, 1913 stage play, Recklessness. If anything, there is now too much plot – noir in spades! – but you can't say that interest ever sags. If, like me, you don't give a hoot for the son who hates dad's new girlfriend plot, you can concentrate on dad's battle with the bottle or his struggle to hold on to his traveling, penny-ante stage show instead. The Alpha DVD is three minutes shorter than the original 76-minute release, because it has shortened or deleted a musical interlude with The Three Ambassadors. Conrad Nagel does his best to hold our interest, despite his poorly motivated role, and he does receive solid support from battling Stanley Fields, Claire Windsor as the cheat and Leila Hyams as the taken-for-granted Lou. The climax indicated by the changed title (the original release called The Constant Woman – a reference to the Hyams character – did zilch in the way of box office business) is pretty exciting, despite (or maybe because of) the obvious use of stock material. Ably directed by Victor Schertzinger (on loan from Paramount), the movie is now available on a pretty good Alpha DVD under the "Hell in a Circus" title.

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3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

A fascinating expansion of a 1913 O'Neill one act revenge play!

6/10
Author: eschetic-2 from Bolton, Ct./Jersey City, NJ; United States
21 November 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Originally released at 76 minutes on March 13, 1933 as a relatively quality product from poverty row Tiffany Studios, THE CONSTANT WOMAN boasted the services of star Conrad Nagel (March 16, 1897 – February 24, 1970), midway through a film career which would stretch from 1918 to 1959. The film would be re-released (shorn of six minutes from its jam-packed plot and re-titled HELL IN A CIRCUS) in 1938 by Atlantic Pictures.

The movie had been adapted (and considerably expanded) from Eugene O'Neill's 1913 one act, one set (the family library) five character revenge play, "Recklessness," in which a father revenges himself on his wife and their chauffeur for their affair which he had discovered. The father's name was changed from Baldwin to Underwood and the whole family, son, circus and second wife plot lines were added, but the core idea of the father's bad reaction to his wife's betrayal and the death of the lovers remained from O'Neill's play (in which he had essentially killed one and driven the other to suicide!).

Director Victor Schertzinger (April 8, 1888 – October 6, 1941) packed a lot of films into his brief 53 years, and went from notable work with minor studios to major productions (THE MIKADO with the D'Oyly Carte company and his two "Road" pictures with Hope and Crosby remain popular to this day and the three successful films he made with Mary Martin are being rediscovered). THE CONSTANT WOMAN marked his last "poverty row" film before starting an association with Columbia Pictures. Both as director and composer, having started as a violinist and conductor, Shertzinger shined. His final film, the posthumous THE FLEET'S IN for Paramount, found him doubling as director and composer (four hit songs with lyrics by Johnny Mercer!); back where he had started in films, composing the orchestral accompaniment to 1916's hit CIVILIZATION!

Screenwriter Warren Duff would also eventually wind up in the majors, with works like ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES and THE LAST COMMAND, before switching to television starting with the prestige series THE ROGUES in 1965. Co-writer F. Hugh Herbert also had another 25 years of credits in his future (especially after returning from Broadway with his comedy KISS AND TELL in 1945).

Small wonder that THE CONSTANT WOMAN stands as one of the better works to come out of a studio not known for major releases!

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2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

A Lady Known as Lou!!

8/10
Author: kidboots from Australia
13 March 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Leila Hyams was a perfect leading lady whose unaggressive personality made her fit in with any of the MGM leading men of the time (Robert Montgomery, William Haines etc) but with "Freaks"(1932) she mustered up more personality than usual as the feisty circus girl thrown over by her "strong man" live in lover and happy to be romanced by Wallace Ford. Circus movies seemed to bring out the best in her and in this oddly named "Hell in a Circus" (my Alpha copy) she is the lady known as Lou, the "constant woman" (the movie's other, more predictable title) who is the glue that holds the circus together.

Expanded from a Eugene O'Neill 1913 one act play "Recklessness", originally confined to the library but now set in a travelling circus. A more rugged looking Conrad Nagel plays Walt Underwood, stage manager for the troupe of players of which his wife is the star and idolized by her son Jimmie (Tommy Conlon who turns in a sensitive performance). Of course Marlene (Claire Windsor) is not worthy of them and even though Walt has bought the company to keep their marriage together, she thinks nothing of leaving them flat when the big time (and her lover) beckon. Paying her a surprise visit Walt and Jimmie are too late - she has died in a fire in sordid circumstances and although Walt paints her as a good woman to Jimmie he has done the job too well as Jimmie grows to hate Lou, who he thinks is trying to take his mother's place.

The truth is Walt has found some incriminating letters which raises questions about whether Jimmie is really his son (although he never tells Jimmie) and it sets him on a downward alcoholic spiral. After searching for him high and low Lou and the circus workers find him in a sleazy speakeasy run by a bullying Fred Kohler and have to wreck the joint to get him out of the manager's clutches. Lou sits up with him all night (to sober him up), Jimmy accidentally sees her and that's how the misunderstanding begins. She gets him back on his feet with a weekly broadcast but their news to Jimmie of their forthcoming marriage has Jimmie running off to join the circus......

The other reviewers are right, there is more plot in this movie than a Victorian gaslight melodrama but all the actors bring their A game. Fred Kohlar chews up all the scenery in sight and Stanley Fields proves he can also play a "lovable lug", Claire Windsor also does well with her short but vicious role of Marlene and it is directed with flair by Victor Schertzinger who penned some memorable tunes ("The Love Parade" etc) for Paramount in the early musical days. Oh and Mickey Daniels from the original "Our Gang" plays a soda jerk.

In 1929 Conrad Nagel was the name on every studio head's lips as in "Get Conrad Nagel" - all due to his beautiful speaking voice and handsome blonde looks. He was even the M.O.C. for M.G.M's all star revue "Hollywood Revue of 1929" but a falling out with Louis B. Mayer saw his star plummet although it was nice to know he still had what it took in a little poverty rower of 1933.

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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

No time to stop when fists are flying.

6/10
Author: mark.waltz from United States
24 August 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Remember those classic spoofs about movie making (usually the silent era) where a whole line of productions are being filmed right next to each other, only separated by a tent? You could have a melodrama of a young widow arguing over the rent with the mustache twirling landlord, a romantic scene of lovers interrupted by the husband, or a crazy cream pie fight? Then comes along the inevitable bar right where the director simply yells "action!" and it seems that a dance begins between the crazy action going on. Fists fly, bodies fly through doors, off balcony's, and bottles hit heads. Yet nobody seems hurt when the director yells "cut!"

That's what happens here with this low budget pre-code drama starring Conrad Bagel as a high class traveling performer who hits the skids when Hus wife goes on the road, leaving their young son with him and is suddenly killed just after Nagel finds out that she's been unfaithful. Nagel hits the bottle, and in a truly amazing fight sequence, is getting drunk in a saloon where a fight just like I describe erupts. Nagel comes out only with a hangover, but his concerned old friend (Leila Hyams) goes off on him for neglecting his impressionable son.

This is one of those B grade dramas from studios on lower Santa Monica Blvd. churned out dozens of titles like this, often not very good. That's not the case here as in spite of technical inferiority's got it right. It's all about Nagel's desperation to make good, and with the help of a good woman, he does just that. But will a romantic future between Nagel and Hyams be possible with the son against the relationship? Predictable? Yes. But boring? Hardly not. This keeps the viewer's interest without resorting to clichés, and if they are there, I was too taken by the film to notice. While there aren't a lot of circus sequences, the final involving a loose tiger and a fire is truly nail biting.

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3 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

Everything but the kitchen sink...

3/10
Author: planktonrules from Bradenton, Florida
29 April 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Rarely have I seen a B-movie with so much plot. In fact, it has enough for two films or perhaps even an epic! It's a case of just too much and should have been trimmed, as a film completed in under 70 minutes with so much stuff happening is a bit confusing and ill-focused.

"The Constant Woman" (also known as "Hell in a Circus"--even though only the last five minutes or so takes place at a circus!) begins with a minor company of actors performing. As the leading lady is doing her act, you see her son in the wings--oh so proud of her. Moments later, he's having a fist-fight with another teen...but this isn't what the film is all about however. Then, the lady announces to her husband and son after the show that she's accepting the lead in another show--in New York. After leaving them, the two decide to follow a few days later to surprise her. When they arrive at her hotel, the father finds out two nasty things: she was burned up in an accidental fire with her lover AND the boy is not really his son!!! Wow. But, this still isn't the main plot of the film.

For a while, the father spends all his time getting drunk and his life is a mess. So, it's up to a lady who cares about him and a friend named (I kid you not) 'Beef' to bring the gang to the speakeasy to get him--and a huge fight occurs with the owners of a speakeasy. But, this really isn't what the film is about however.

Next, you see the father being sobered up by his lady friend. And, soon they've both gotten a great job paying wonderful money doing a radio show and all appears to be happy. And, at that moment, the dopey dad realizes how wonderful the lady is an asks her to marry him. But, this isn't quite the main story idea either.

The teen learns about this upcoming marriage and he freaks out--running off to live with Beef at the circus. However, his dad and possible new mom are beside themselves looking for this runaway little punk and on a hunch, they rush to the circus. There, the place has just caught fire--wild animals are running amok and are about to eat the boy who is pinned under some stuff....in a burning tent!!! But who should come and save him?! Yep--new mom. Now the boy awakens in the hospital realizing what a jerk-face he's been and announces that the marriage is a swell idea and they all live happily ever again. So, now that I think about it, what is the actual purpose or plot of this thing?! The bottom line is that the writer threw in everything but the kitchen sink. As a result, the film came off as cheesy and contrived.

To recap--a mother abandons her family only to become a crispy critter with her lover, the husband finds out about it AND that his son isn't really his, becomes an alcoholic, is being held prisoner in a speak-easy, is rescued by 'Beef', is sobered up, gets a good job, negotiates a great contract for lots 'o money, realizes he's in love, asks the girl to marry him, son returns from boarding school and freaks out when told this, runs off and joins the circus that now happens to catch fire AND the lions and tigers escape AND new mom-to-be rescues the kid and the kid now realizes she's a swell dame.....Good Lord, there is a LOT in this film!!! In addition, the acting, at times, is a bit suspect and the film is a silly and inconsequential little B-movie and nothing more.

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