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After splitting with his longtime business partner, Hank Whirling is about to take his big top circus on tour. He manages to get a loan and some investment money but has to take on one of their employees, Randy Sherman, to keep an eye on the finances. Sherman immediately hires a new press agent, Helen Harrison, over Hank's objections. After a series of accidents, they soon realize that they have a saboteur in the company. With financial problems increasing, Whirling looks to take the the show to New York City before his former partner Jules Borman can get his circus there. He realizes that he'll need a lot of publicity and trapeze and high wire artist Zach Colino agrees to walk the wire across Niagara Falls. After the circus train is sabotaged - killing Zach's wife and several others - they race to Niagara Falls to complete the high wire act but Zach may not be up it. The saboteur working for Borman bides his time and is planning another death. Written by
The human cannonball is shown climbing up the cannon, kneeling at the top, then swinging around and sliding into its mouth. In the next shot, showing the net in the foreground and the cannon behind, he's seen at the top of the cannon, swinging around and sliding into its mouth a second time. See more »
Unfortunately for The Big Circus, The Greatest Show On Earth by Cecil B. DeMille set the standard for circus films that will be pretty hard to match. One hasn't come out in many years now, probably the market isn't there. Pity too, in this age of computer graphics, the potential to out DeMille DeMille is there.
This film can still stand on its own however as good entertainment. As in The Grestest Show On Earth, someone is out trying to sabotage the circus. The villain here isn't doing it for some nefarious scheme to enrich, it's a very psychologically disturbed individual who is not unmasked until the very end.
The leads here are Victor Mature in the role of circus boss and he's got financial troubles. Working to help straighten out the circus's finances are Rhonda Fleming and Red Buttons. Both aren't quite used to the culture of the circus, but Vic works the old heavy lidded charm and he's got a sister in Kathryn Crosby who brings the circus out in banker Buttons.
In The Greatest Show on Earth James Stewart took a supporting role as a clown because he always wanted to play one. Peter Lorre departs from his usual villainy to play a similar kind of clown, kind of a father confessor to the show.
But my favorite in the film is Gilbert Roland. He plays the patriarch of a high wire act and the high point of the film is his walk across Niagara Falls as a publicity stunt for the financially strapped show. Roland is under a lot of pressure, his wife, Adele Mara, having been the only fatality in a planned train wreck.
In fact The Big Circus took so much from The Greatest Show on Earth like the train wreck and other things that producer/director Irwin Allen was rightly criticized for a lack of originality. It seems he was just trying he could do the same things on the screen better than DeMille.
Nevertheless The Big Circus is a fine film on its own, entertaining and colorful for children of all ages.
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