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Big Circus
     

The Big Circus

Director: Joseph Newman

Cast: Victor Mature, Red Buttons, Rhonda Fleming

 
Victor Mature, in one of his last leading man performances, plays Hank Whirling, the owner of a financially shaky circus who is trying to get back on his feet, despite cutthroat competition from a rival organization. He also has a younger sister (Kathryn Grant) to watch out for. After arranging for a bank loan, he discovers that he's got two new members of "management

Overview

Victor Mature, in one of his last leading man performances, plays Hank Whirling, the owner of a financially shaky circus who is trying to get back on his feet, despite cutthroat competition from a rival organization. He also has a younger sister (Kathryn Grant) to watch out for. After arranging for a bank loan, he discovers that he's got two new members of "management" to contend with: persnickety bank officer Randy Sherman (Red Buttons), who is put there to safeguard the loan, and press agent Helen Harrison (Rhonda Fleming), who is hired by Sherman to help get the Whirling Circus some publicity. Hank can't abide the presence of either of them, or, more to the point, the idea of sharing his authority, though Randy means well and Helen is very good to look at and does know her job. The circus owner can barely take the time to deal with either of them, however, with shows to give and an apparent saboteur at work, who grows bolder with each passing day and finally starts getting people killed. In the course of trying to save the show, aerialist Zack Colino (Gilbert Roland) commits himself to a headline-making publicity stunt -- covered heavily by television news as well -- that Helen merely rattles off without thinking, of walking a wire across Niagara Falls. Colino also figures heavily in the denouement, a tense chase under the big top that develops as the man responsible for the train wrecks, escaped animals, fires, and other sabotage is identified and goes on the run.

Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Bruce Eder
A quick look at the plot of The Big Circus would lead one to suspect that it was a sort of lower-rent rip-off of Cecil B. DeMille's The Greatest Show on Earth, and you would be right, as far as that thinking goes. Producer Irwin Allen made a big chunk of his career out of "adapting" earlier, established works and ideas from the screen in new forms. Thus, he did Five Weeks in a Balloon in the distant backwash of Around the World in Eighty Days, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea in the wake of Disney's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and the television series Lost in Space (originally to have been called "Space Family Robinson") following Disney's Swiss Family Robinson. But he always added something, in either the approach to or execution of the idea, that made it feel new and fresh, or, at least, not old. Thus, while The Big Circus resembles The Greatest Show on Earth in several plot points -- including the presence of a taciturn lead character played by Victor Mature, and the notion of having a very recognizable character actor (and one-time star) (Peter Lorre) in the role of a clown -- it also did the rather ponderous, elephantine DeMille production one better: It was fun, and it moved. At 108 minutes, it was manageable as a piece of entertainment, and it also didn't take itself too seriously in tone. There's a lot of humor, a fair amount of comedy, and also a knowing self-consciousness about The Big Circus as a work intended to be fun on several levels. The presence of Steve Allen as himself, on television, represented some of this kind of gentle nudging of the ribs for the audience, and even the presentation of Gilbert Roland's climactic high-wire walk across Niagara Falls is done in a way that manages to be dramatic on its own terms, yet oh-so-subtly silly as to be diverting in a wholly separate, preconscious manner. For Irwin Allen, The Big Circus marked the opening of his career as a full-time producer and also set the pattern for his subsequent movies, particularly in its use of an all-star lead cast: Victor Mature, Red Buttons, Rhonda Fleming, Peter Lorre, Vincent Price (as the circus' ringmaster), David Nelson (who was doing this picture around the same time that Ricky Nelson was doing Rio Bravo), and Gilbert Roland. You can see the idea carried forward to the production of The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, and The Swarm two decades later. Allen co-wrote the screenplay with Irving Wallace and one-time Alfred Hitchcock collaborator Charles Bennett, who would contribute to subsequent Allen projects in film and television, and one can also spot the future members of his film and television production team, including Paul Sawtell and Paul Zastupnevich. The movie, alas, was done in Cinemascope, but hasn't been seen that way since its original theatrical run, and though it has turned up on lists as a potential video/laserdisc/DVD release over the years, there's been no mention of the idea of letterboxing it.

Product Details

Release Date:
03/23/2009
UPC:
0883316127049
Original Release:
1959
Rating:
NR
Source:
Warner Archives
Presentation:
[Wide Screen]
Time:
1:48:00
Sales rank:
29,130

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Victor Mature Hank Whirling
Red Buttons Randy Sherman
Rhonda Fleming Helen Harrison
Kathryn Grant Jeannie Weirling
Vincent Price Hans Hagenfeld
Peter Lorre Skeeter
David Nelson Tommy Gordon
Gilbert Roland Aerialist
Adele Mara Mama Colino
Howard McNear Mr. Lomax
Charles Watts Jonathan Nelson
Steve Allen Guest Star

Technical Credits
Joseph Newman Director
Irwin Allen Producer,Screenwriter
Barbette Choreography
Charles Bennett Screenwriter
Sammy Fain Songwriter
Adrienne Fazan Editor
Winton Hoch Cinematographer
Paul Sawtell Score Composer
Bert Shefter Score Composer
Irving Wallace Screenwriter
Paul Francis Webster Songwriter
Paul Zastupnevich Costumes/Costume Designer

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