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
In the climactic trapeze act near the end, Zach and Jeannie are repeatedly shown standing on the opposite side of the stationary platform in long shots from where they're standing in close-ups. See more »
"The Big Circus," from 1959 is one of those spectacles in color that begged to be seen on a big screen, the type of film intended to lure audiences from their TV sets back into the movie theater.
It's a predictable story. Henry Whirling, the owner of the Whirling Circus (Victor Mature) gets a loan from a bank, but an accountant (Red Buttons) is sent along to watch the investment. He hires a publicist (Rhonda Fleming), though Whirling objects strenuously. Meanwhile, a rival circus is trying to sabotage Whirling's efforts to get into the black.
The film also stars Vincent Price as the ringleader, Gilbert Roland as the aerialist Colino, Peter Lorre as a Skeets the clown, David Nelson, a member of the high wire act, and Kathryn Grant. Grant plays Mature's sister -- they are twenty years apart, but it's within the realm of possibility.
With more attention paid to the care of animals today, I doubt you'd see multi-colored elephants, which really bothered me.
Some interesting aerial routines, a little suspense, and need I say that Red Buttons takes Skeets the Clown's place at one point.
This is before CGI and computers, so the process shot of Colino walking a wire at a national landmark is lousy.
The acting is nothing special. The best actors like Lorre and Price have smaller roles. Victor Mature was a serviceable leading man. Very, very few men in Hollywood were handsome throughout their lives; I think Gilbert Roland was a notable exception. He's quite effective in a dramatic role.
All in all, entertaining.
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