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It's the early 1900's. The Wonder Circus is a traveling circus owned and operated by Anthony Wonder - who performs as a clown - and his daughter Kitty Wonder - who performs as an aerialist and trick rider. Although Kitty loves her Pop as she and all the other circus performers call her father, she hates his gambling addiction which is placing the circus deep in debt. They and their employees treat the circus like one big family, especially Lulu the fortune teller who wants to be Mrs. Wonder, but the employees may only be so loyal if they aren't getting paid. As such, many of the performers leave or threaten to leave to join the Wonder Circus' main competitor, the Noble Circus owned by the power and money hungry John Noble. Although Pop and Kitty don't want anyone to leave their employ, the only act that they will never let go is Jumbo, their trained elephant, who Noble had tried to buy in the past. As many performers leave, into their midst comes circus Jack-of-all-trades Sam Rawlins.... Written by
Doris Day's final musical role was in Jumbo which finally came to the screen almost 30 years after it played at the legendary Hippodrome Theater for 233 performances in 1935. Henceforth all of Doris's films would be screen comedies in which she may have sung a ditty or two in the film or over the title credits. But Jumbo was her last true musical.
Jumbo was directed by Charles Walters an old hand at musicals, his best known probably being High Society. But Walters had an even older hand working with him in Busby Berkeley. His touch is obvious as the second unit director in some of the musical numbers. Jumbo marked Berkeley farewell screen credit.
The plot is little changed from the 1935 show. Jimmy Durante who was repeating his role from the original Broadway cast is Pop Wonder a kindly circus owner who owes everyone in a 20 mile radius because of his gambling problem. He's the despair of his daughter Doris Day and Martha Raye who does a crystal ball act on the sideshow who Durante's been carrying a long term courtship of.
His show is in desperate straights with acts quitting him left and right, Doris is fulfilling several acts and jobs on the show, from high wire work to clown. One day handsome and muscular Stephen Boyd comes looking for a job. He seems like the answer to a prayer, but it turns out he's the son of rival circus owner Dean Jagger and doing a little espionage for the old man.
Durante's show has one real asset, the legendary circus elephant Jumbo whom as we know was the real life main attraction of Barnum&Bailey's real life circus in the 19th century. It's that which Jagger means to have.
Of course the boy/girl thing as usual gets in the way with Day and Boyd. Their romance is played out under the big top to the strains of one of Rodgers&Hart's best scores. Made even better by the addition of This Can't Be Love from The Boys From Syracuse.
So many good songs by Rodgers and Hart you hardly know where to begin. Doris gets to sing My Romance, This Can't Be Love, and one of the most plaintive ballads of heartbreak ever written, Little Girl Blue. Stephen Boyd if he wasn't dubbed, had a nice singing voice and does a good job on The Most Beautiful Girl In The World, with an obbligato done by Jimmy Durante.
I've seen stills of the technically off Broadway production of the original cast in 1935. With all the circus acts, no conventional Broadway Theater could have possibly housed this show. The Hippodrome which was located on Sixth Avenue and 43rd Street has been gone since before World War II, Jumbo was the last show of any kind done there. I wish I could have seen it live.
My guess is that producer Billy Rose drove a hard bargain in getting just compensation for the screen rights. It's why Jumbo took so long to come to the screen. Fortunately it made it there just as musicals were being phased out. I'm sure Rose's name in the title was another bit of vanity for him to get the show to the screen.
Despite what I consider an almost surreal ending, Jumbo still delights musical and circus fans of all ages and will continue to do so. You can never go wrong with a musical by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart.
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