(VOD) I’ll be straight: THE BIG CIRCUS isn’t a great film. Yes, it’s exactly what the title promises: a deeply fictional take on a post-break-up Ringling circus with Vincent Price as the ringleader, Peter Lorre as a clown., and Victor Mature as the defiant owner. Sounds thrilling, right?
Sadly, the film lacks in narrative sizzle — it’s basically an array of calamities that Mature overcomes to thwart the bank supervisor overseeing the circus’ use of its significant loan — but it makes up for with the circus acts, especially the acrobatics. Unfortunately, all of the circus spectacles are mostly one-setup shots, mimicking an audience member’s view, so even the performances feel a bit cheap. If it were shot in Cinerama, like it feels like it should be, perhaps it’d achieve the grand spectacle Irwin Allen intended.
Yes, this film was the vision of Irwin Allen, the ‘Master of Disaster’. Before THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE and THE TOWERING INFERNO, Allen wrote and produced this, and intended to direct it. (Instead Joseph M. Newman ended up as the director.) Consequently, his penchent for catastrophes fits this film well, especially since most of the disasters portrayed in this film are somewhat based on actual events during the Ringling history.*
About the cast: Victor Mature portrays Hank Whirling like GYPSY-era Rosalind Russel but as a circus owner, and just think about what that might have been. Price is fine as a straight-laced ringleader, and a very squat Lorre ambles along as a drunk clown, which is also fine. Kathryn Grant’s mis-matched solids/plaid outfits often steal every non-circus scene.
Again, it’s not a great film, but it’s heart-warming fun with some entertaining numbers, and why would you give up the chance to see Price and Lorre on-screen together?
“Where are you going?” “All the way.” “I thought you’d never ask.”
- I know most folks fall asleep at the mention of Ken Burns, but his THE CIRCUS documentary covers this and more, and manages to be both fascinating and succinct! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-14W2o49kA4