'Shadow of the Circus Ring' is a turgid drama set against the background of a German circus. This stodgy talkie has the feel of an EA Dupont film, but without Dupont's splendid visual sense or directorial pace. The director, Heinz Paul, shows no flair for the material. Several other directors could have heightened the unreality of the circus sequences -- a few who come to mind are Tod Browning, Herbert Brenon, Michael Curtiz and the brilliant Fritz Lang -- to move this story into melodrama territory and make it more interesting. As it is, it just lies in the sawdust.
Artonis is an acrobat (stiffly played by Karl Ludwig Diehl; we never see him doing anything acrobatic) employed in the circus owned by Elvira Starke. Apparently he confines his acrobatics to the bedroom, because he's carrying on two separate affairs on the trot: one with his boss Elvira, and one with the circus's beautiful equestrienne Kitty Rallay. (I couldn't take that name seriously; it reminds me too much of Kitty Riley, the overstuffed ingenue in the Old Mother Riley comedies.) Someone shoots Artonis dead, although I'm surprised that he stopped moving long enough for a bullet to hit him. A police detective (Georg Schnell) then spends the rest of the movie questioning suspects and seeking evidence. At the end of the movie, we learn whodunnit but we don't much care.
In 1967, while working for Billy Smart's Circus in England, I was peripherally involved in the making of 'Berserk!!', a horror/mystery film that took place in a circus troupe, and which incorporated footage of Billy Smart's acts into the implausible plot. I'd thought at the time that 'Berserk!' was inept, but it's a masterpiece of craftsmanship compared to 'Schatten der Manege'. There's some good footage of several circus acts here, but that footage is never properly interpolated into the story of the murder investigation. Much of the photography is appropriately stark and moody, but the pace of this film is poor and most of the actors give bad performances. My rating for this: barely 3 out of 10.
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