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In 1950s Czechoslovakia circus manager Karel Cernik is planning an escape from Communism to freedom.His idea is to force his way across the guarded border using his entire circus.Three years in the making his idea is ready to be tested when he's suddenly summoned to a Secret Police routine questioning about his circus' program.To Cernik it's clear that he has an informer among his staff who reports his activities and private talks to the Secret Police. The Americans are just across the river in a nearby border village but Cernik needs a special permit from the Secret Police allowing his circus freedom of movement in the border areas to perform his shows.This hard to get permit is vital to his escape plan.To make matters worse his wife is being unfaithful, his daughter has fallen in love with the new stables boy,his circus is falling apart and his longtime rival, Barovik, wants to take over Cernik's circus. Written by
Fredric March is a "Man on a Tightrope" in this 1953 film also starring Terry Moore, Gloria Grahame, Adolphe Menjou, Richard Boone and Cameron Mitchell, Directed by Elia Kazan, this black and white film is about circus performers who and a daring plan to escape to Germany from Communist-controlled Czechoslovakia. The manager of the circus, Karel Czernik (Fredric March) is a seemingly weak man - in fact, his second wife (Grahame) detests him for it. When he's called before Communist authorities for one or another infraction committed by the circus, he's deferential and nervous. Behind all this, he has been planning the escape of the entire circus from Czechoslovakia for three years. Only a few people know - but when the Commmunists ask about a radio owned by Czernik, he realizes one of his friends is probably a traitor, though he can't accept it. He also has trouble accepting his daughter's (Terry Moore) taste in men (Cameron Mitchell).
I visited Czechoslovakia eight years ago. The thought of that beautiful country and those charming, stunning people having to live for so long under Communist rule is a heartbreaking thought. This film really brought it home.
One thing immediately noticeable about "Man on a Tightrope" is the circus and the depressing Eastern Europe atmosphere, heightened by the black and white photography and the broken-down circus. Then there is the look of the people in the circus - these aren't actor's faces, these are the faces of real people. Kazan used a real-life circus, the Brumbach Circus, for background and performances. You can almost feel the dust and the oppression of working under Communist rule.
Fredric March gives a wonderful performance as Karel, a true actor who appears to bow to the Communists and yet is no weakling. His love for both his wife and daughter is apparent, as is his determination to get out of the country and concern for the performers. Gloria Grahame is sexy and flirty as his wife, who has her eye on the lion tamer, until she realizes the stuff her husband is made of. Moore and Mitchell are convincing lovers. Adolphe Menjou, as a Communist official, is very good as the only one who pierces the act that March is putting on. Smart men bear watching, and so do nice men. Cernik is both.
Apparently due to the political climate at the time, this film wasn't widely shown or publicized. I caught it on Fox Movie Channel - hopefully FMC will be on more basic cable in the country, and also hopefully Fox will bring this film out on DVD. It deserves to be seen.
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