The Gallery
presents

“The Circus”

with
15
of your favorite circus movies

 

The Circus 1928

Produced, written and directed by Charles Chaplin

The Little Tramp...........Charles Chaplin
The Ringmaster.............Al Ernst Garcia
The Circus Rider...........Merna Kennedy
The Tightrope Walker...Harry Crocker
A Magician....................George Davis
An Old Clown...............Henry Bergman
                                    and lots and lots of monkeys.

The story finds the Little Tramp being bamboozled by a pickpocket, falsely suspected by the police and running headlong into the middle of a circus performance where he manages to create happy havoc. He falls in love with the circus rider who is already in love with the tightrope walker. But it all works out in the end and the Little Tramp leaves the circus to find more adventure elsewhere.
Note: it took Chaplin five years to develop this story and another three for the picture to get to the screen. But it is a keeper!

“I remain just one thing and one thing only, and that is a clown. It places me on a higher plane than any politician.”  Charles Chaplin

 

 


 

The Circus Clown 1934

First National
Directed by Ray Enright

Joe E. Brown................... Happy Howard/Chuckles Howard
Patricia Ellis …............... Alice
Dorothy Burgess............. Babe
Gordon Westcott............. Frank
Donald Dillaway............. Jack
Charles Wilson................ Sheldon
Ronnie Cosby.................. Dickie

Happy Howard wanted to be a circus performer just like his dad. But Chuckles the circus clown was now hotel man Howard and wanted nothing to do with the circus. But  naïve Happy kept on practicing his acrobatic stunts on the trampoline in the barn and dreaming. When the circus came to town he secretly slipped away to watch it and was smitten with the bareback rider unaware”she” is a “he. Some of the troupe string Happy along for a gag. He took a job washing elephants and feeding the lions while dreaming of his chance to perform. When he takes over for a drunken aerialist, he becomes the hero of the hour to a girl, a little boy and his own dear dad.
Notes: Joe E. Brown had no doubles for the acrobatics in this film. He was a former circus performer himself. But he did get injured....the playful lion affectionately pawed him too hard and he had to get six stitches in his arm.


 

 

 

At the Circus 1939


MGM
Directed by Edward Buzzell 

The Marx Brothers.....
  Groucho as J. Cheever Loophole
  Chico as Antonio
  Harpo as Punchy
Kenny Baker as Jeff Wilson
Margaret Dumont as Mrs. Dukesbury
Florence Rice as Julia Randall
Eve Arden as Peerless Pauline
James Burke as John Carter
                 and “Gibraltar” the ape

On the verge of losing his circus and disowned by his rich aunt, Jeff Wilson tries to get enough money together to buy out his partner, John Carter. However, nefarious Carter steals the money Jeff raised so he can take over the business. One of his employees convinces him to hire a lawyer, J. Cheever Loophole. Loophole has a double-edged plan ...find the stolen money for Wilson and fleece his rich aunt, Mrs. Dukesbury, in the process. Antonio bungles Plan A so it is up to Loophole to extract the missing $10,000 from Auntie Dearest to save the circus.
Notes: Since they couldn't find a real trained gorilla to play “Gibraltar” the studio hired an actor in an ape suit. But half through filming those scenes, the actor fainted from lack of oxygen inside the heavy suit. The actor's agent advised his client to put a few small holes in the suit to solve the problem. But when the “suit's” agent (no kidding!) discovered what had been done, he grabbed the suit and stalked off the set leaving the studio with only an orangutan suit available to finish the film.. They had to hire a shorter actor to fit into the smaller suit. Wouldn't you know it!!!When ape fanciers saw the movie, they demanded their money back for false gorilla advertising!
Groucho sings his best known song “Lydia the Tattooed Lady”.
                                                    
 

 

 


The Wagons Roll at Night 1941

Warner Bros./First National
Directed by Ray Enright

Nick Coster.......Humphrey Bogart
Flo Lorraine......Sylvia Sidney
Matt Varney.......Eddie Albert
Mary Coster.......Joan Leslie
Hoffman the Great...Sig Rumann

Grocery clerk Matt Varney didn't expect to find a lion lurking among the fruits and vegetables. The king of beasts had escaped from a traveling carnival show. When the  carnival owner Nick Coster learns how Matt successfully cornered the lion he gave the young man a job in the carnival with lion tamer Hoffman the Great. In time Matt took over the job because of Hoffman's drinking but also made an enemy. After a losing battle with the man, Matt is taken to Coster's farm where he meets the other Coster, sister Mary. Nick kept her far away from the carnival crowd and, when Matt continued to see her, he became enraged and decided to get rid of him. He convinces Matt that the only way to make a reputation for himself is to do something spectacular like get into the cage with Caesar, a big lion with a nasty reputation. Matt agrees but soon it is Caesar who has the upper hand. Mary and Flo plead with Nick to save Matt's life. Matt makes it but Nick gets killed.
Notes: This film finally gave Bogart top billing and he never lost it.
                                                     

 

 

The Greatest Show on Earth 1952

Produced, directed and narrated by Cecil B. Demille

Brad Braden.................Charlton Heston
Holly.............................Betty Hutton
The Great Sebastian.....Cornel Wilde
Phyllis...........................Dorothy Lamour
Angel.............................Gloria Grahame
Klaus.............................Lyle Bettger
                  and James Stewart as “Buttons”

Brad Braden had troubles by the carload. As the general manager of the world's biggest circus, he had to convince the top brass to keep a full season despite the financial pressure on the strength of his newest acquisition, show-stopper aerialist “The Great Sebastian” whose reputation of causing discord among the ladies preceded him. Then Brad had to tell his favorite gal pal, Holly, the current star on the trapeze, she wouldn't get the prized center ring. He also had a crooked concessionaire to keep an eye on, a jealous elephant trainer and a clown with a mysterious past. What he didn't count on was the wild hijinks between Sebastian and Holly on the high wire, a tragic accident, jealousy turning to vengeance and a train wreck that almost destroys the circus. It is finally Holly, Buttons and a valiant circus family that saves the day.
Notes: While the film is studded with stellar cameos, it is the circus that is the real star of the show.....1400 people, countless animals and carloads of tents and equipment. The entire Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus with 85 acts including famous clowns Emmett Kelly and Lou Jacobs and a song “Lovely Luwana Lady” written by John Ringling North himself. But it also signaled the end of the “Big Top” as we knew it.
                                                           


 

Man on a Tightrope 1953


20th Century Fox
Elia Kazan

Frederic March as Karl Cernik
Terry Moore as Tereza Cernik
Gloria Grahame as Zama Cernik
Cameron Mitchell as Joe Vosdek
Adolphe Menjou as Fesker

Karel Cernik had been the owner of Cirkus Cernik, a troupe of Czechoslovakian performers that had been in his family for years. When his country fell under Communist rule, the circus was confiscated by the government and Karel was made an “manager”. The new leaders ordered the tempo of the shows to change to follow political views, declared that all foreign workers be dismissed and even conscripted members of the troupe for military service. A proud and independent Czech, Karel had to find a way out. At home his young second wife was restless, his daughter was in love with an itinerant handyman and he was sure there was a spy in his company. But, at the risk of his own life and the lives of his troupe, Karel planned one of the most daring circus-style daylight border crossings in history.
Notes: Filmed in Bavaria, Germany this film features the Brumbach Circus, the circus that actually did escape across a border from East Germany to West Germany in 1950. But owner Gustav Brumbach camouflaged both the equipment and performers and moved them one small section at a time over several months.

 

 


Lili   1953
MGM
Directed by Charles Walters

Lili Daurier........................Leslie Caron
Paul Berthalet....................Mel Ferrer
Marc/Marcel the Great.......Jean Pierre Aumont
Rosalie................................Zsa Zsa Gabor
Jacquot …...........................Kurt Kasznar
Peach Lips...........................Amanda Blake

 Lili, a 16-year-old orphan, is in town looking for an old friend of her late father, only to find he is also dead. A shopkeeper offers her a job and a meal but expects much more. She is also befriended by a charming magician and fascinated, she follows him to the carnival where he works. Marc(Marcel the Great), realizing her naivety, gets her a job as a waitress but she loses it on her first night. Busy watching his act, she forgets to wait on tables. Marc  tells her to go home and Lili is devastated. She confides her pain to the puppets in Paul Berthalet's puppet show...Carrot Top, the little boy, Reynaud the fox, the diva Madeleine and Golo the cowardly Giant. The crippled puppeteer, who has pain of his own listens and then talks to her through the puppets. He also falls in love with her. The interaction between Lili and the puppets soon attracts a crowd. Jacquot convinces Paul it should be part of the show but, when Lili learns that Marc is actually married to Rosalie, she decides to leave the carnival. Paul tries to stop her, speaking first through the puppets. When she pulls back the curtain, he explains the it is a business plan but Lili leaves. On the road out of town, Lili has a dream-like sequence where she dances with each of the puppets now life-size and they fade one by one into Paul. Finally Lili realizes it is Paul she loves after all and returns to the carnival.
Notes: One of the very first times the use of text to make an emoticon was used in an ad for this film. In the New York Herald Tribune March 10, 1953, page 20, cols. 4-6.“ Today You'll laugh :) You'll cry :(  You'll love <3 'Lili"

 

 

 

 

3-Ring Circus  1954

Paramount
Directed by Joseph Pevney

Pete Nelson.................Dean Martin
Jerry Hotchkiss............Jerry Lewis
Jill Brent.......................Joanne Dru
Sandia...........................Zsa Zsa Gabor
Wallace Ford.................Sam Morley
Sig Rumann...................Col. Fritz Schiltz
Elsa Lanchester...............The Bearded Lady
Gene Sheldon..................Puffo the Clown
                   and the Clyde Beatty Circus

Pete Nelson and Jerry Hotchkiss are just out of the army and they are both broke, thanks to Pete's gambling debts. Jerry wants to be a clown but he takes a job as a lion tamer trainee on the G.I. Bill with the Clyde Brent circus. Pete goes with him to see if they  have a job for him,too. The down-and-out circus is trying to stay afloat so the pickings are poor. Both Pete and Jerry find themselves doing roustabout work...everything from washing elephants, serving frozen custard on the midway to being a human cannonball. Pete becomes the focus of attention with both the lady owner and the lady trapeze artist causing some very unladylike behavior. Jerry takes over when Puffo gets drunk and becomes the star of the show.
Notes: This film is the only Martin and Lewis motion picture not on home release.
 

 

 


Trapeze  1956 

Hecht/Hill/Lancaster/UA
Directed by Carol Reed

Burt Lancaster as Mike Ripple
Tony Curtis as Tino Orsini
Gina Lollobrigida as Lola
Katy Jurado as Rosa
Thomas Gomez as Bouglione
                    and Johnny Puleo as Max

Mike Ripple was only the sixth aerialist to perform the triple somersault and Tino Orsini wanted to be the seventh. Tino's dream began with his father, former aerialist Guido Orsini who told him only Mike could teach him all he needed to know. But now crippled in body and spirit, Ripple was working as a rigger at the Paris Cirque d'Iver.  Watching Tino go through his paces on the high wire, Mike suddenly saw in him the artist he himself was once and knew he could teach the young hotshot how to do the almost impossible...with Mike as his catcher. Then along came devious Lola, a so-so performer who had broken up other acts by inserting herself in the middle first with her charm and then with her insatiable desire to be the star. She made a play for Mike but he was old-school and didn't fall for her line. Tino was easier pickings and boss Bouglione wanted a little dazzle in the act.  Mike's axiom “One flies, one catches. Nobody gets in between” fell on deaf ears. The tension built between the two men. On the opening night when John Ringling North came to see the act, Bouglione pulled Mike and sent in another catcher but Mike headed him off. It was the night for Tino to do the triple....but he would have to do it without a net!

Note: Lancaster did most of his own stunts in this picture with the exception of the triple. He had hired Eddie Ward from Ringling Bros/Barnum & Bailey as technical adviser and Eddie did the more dangerous flying. He also worked with Tony and Gina to reduce the the use of doubles. Curtis said later that”some of the aerial stunts were so dangerous that even the doubles had doubles”.
Watch Johnny Puleo steal scenes!


 

 

The Big Circus 1959 


Irwin Allen/Allied Artists
Directed by Joseph M. Newman

Henry Jasper “Hank” Whirling......Victor Mature
Randy Newman...............................Red Buttons
Helen Harrison.................................Rhonda Fleming
Jeannie Whirling............................Kathyrn Grant
Skeeter the Clown..........................Peter Lorre
The Flying Colinos:
        Zach........................................Gilbert Roland
        Mama......................................Adele Mara
        Tommy Gordon.......................David Nelson
Hans Hagenfeld...............................Vincent Price


 
Hank Whirling had to take out a loan to save his floundering circus but the bank added two attachments....budget supervisor Randy Newman and publicity/press agent Helen Harrison. Hank resented them both but he was too busy to argue with arch rival Jules Borman breathing down his neck and a saboteur making it dangerous under the big top. Unusual and sometimes deadly accidents like a lion on the loose during a performance, fires set near the animal cages and a train derailment that left one of the performers dead. But the circus moved on carried by elephant, horseback or shoe leather. With everyone's life savings at stake, Hank had to come up with some plan to save the season and the circus. Zach Colino walked a tightrope over Niagara Falls and Hank put the circus on Steve Allen's weekly television program. “If the people can't come to the circus, the circus will go to the people”. Finally with the help of the police, fingerprints from the sabotaged train wheel were identified, the man responsible exposed and the Whirling Circus was back in business.
Notes: This was one of Victor Mature's final leading man roles.

 

 

 

 

“Toby Tyler or Ten Weeks with a Circus” 1960

Walt Disney
Directed by Charles Burton

Kevin Corcoran as Toby Tyler
Bob Sweeney as Harry Tupper
Gene Sheldon as Sam Treat
Henry Calvin as Ben Cotter
James Drury as Jim Weaver
Richard Eastham as Colonel Sam Castle
                 and “Mr. Stubbs”

 Toby had been sent from the orphanage to live with his uncle Daniel and Aunt Olive on their farm. When the circus came to town, Toby stole into town to watch the parade without doing his chores. When he got back, he got a verbal thrashing from his uncle because the unfed hogs broke down the fence and got into the pasture. Hurt and heartsick, Toby ran way to join the circus and devious concessionaire Harry Tupper was only too glad to put him to work. But when the chimpanzee who took a liking to Toby caused a commotion, Owner Sam Castle put them both in the hands of gruff but kind Ben Cotter. Ben, Toby and Mr. Stubbs became fast friends and for ten weeks Toby lived the circus life. He even learned how to perform on horseback. But soon Uncle Daniel and Aunt Olive found him and came to to take him home. They told him how much they loved him and promised to let him have one more performance. This time Mr. Stubbs joined in the act and became a star in his own right.
Notes: Kevin Anthony Corcoran grew up to be a director and producer but he was one of eight siblings who all acted at one time or another as children. Sister Noreen was Kelly in the television series “Bachelor Father”. Brian and Kerry joined Kevin in “Daniel Boone”. Donna played Bridget in the original movie “Angels in the Outfield” and Kelly was Kip in “The Road West'.

 

 



Billy Rose's Jumbo  1964


Martin Melcher & Joe Pasternak/MGM
Directed by Charles Walters

Kitty Wonder..............Doris Day
Sam Rawlins...............Stephen Boyd
“Pop” Wonder................Jimmy Durante
Lulu.............................Martha Raye
John Noble...................Dean Jagger

Pop Wonder owned a very small circus and a very big elephant. John Noble had a very big circus but much smaller elephants and he hated being out-sized. So Noble decided he wanted Pop's circus and Pop's elephant. Noble also knew Pop had a weakness.... he  never met a crap game he didn't like. His daughter Kitty had to dream up outrageous charades to keep the creditors at bay. Soon even the performers moved on to green-er pastures. Then along came Sam. Sam seemed to be able to do everything....save the box office receipts from a crooked crap game....fix the merry-go-round and walk the high wire blindfolded. He even saved Lulu and Kitty when a storm hit the Big Top. Things were really looking up. Pop married Lulu after only a 14-year engagement and Kitty fell in love with Sam. Then, when no one was looking, John Noble took away the circus and Jumbo while Sam who was really his son, broke Kitty's heart.
Notes: Doris Day and hubby Marty Melcher produced this film based on the Billy Rose 1935 Broadway musical but it didn't do all they expected ..win Doris the role in “Sound of Music”. But it did bring back Jimmy Durante after a 10 year absence from the screen and give Martha Raye a great chance to show off her talent on the big screen again. She had been on television for 15 years.
 

The Story of the real “Jumbo”......


Jumbo was an African elephant born in 1801 in the French Sudan. He was sold to the London Zoo in 1882 and then to the Barnum & Bailey Circus for $10,000 and shipped to New York City.  The 12 foot high, six ton gentle giant became the star of the show. 

On the night of September 15, 1885 the circus was playing in the town of St. Thomas, Ontario. The elephant troupe of 28 had finished all their routines and all but two were already led away to the railway cars waiting for them. The smallest, called Tom Thumb and the largest, Jumbo, were taking their final bow. Their handler, Matthew Scott was leading them along the tracks when they heard the whistle of an oncoming train. Unable to stop, the unscheduled express train hit Tom Thumb and knocked him down the steep embankment. But Jumbo was caught between the embankment and the circus train with nowhere to go. The train was derailed and Jumbo was mortally wounded. With no way to move the huge elephant, Jumbo laid where he had fallen, his handler at his side until he died.

 

 

Circus World  1964

Produced by Sam Bronston/Paramount
Directed by Henry Hathaway

John Wayne..................Matt Masters
Claudia Cardinale..........Toni Alfredo
Lloyd Nolan...................Cap Carson
John Smith.....................Steve McCabe
Richard Conte................Tojo/Aldo Alfredo

 It was the dawn of a new century and Matt Masters was taking his Wild West show to Europe. He was looking for a woman he hadn't seen in fourteen years. She had vanished leaving something behind....a daughter. Matt took little Toni in and raised her as his own but now it was time she met her mother.  But the first show aboard ship was a real disaster. A trapeze performer fell into the water during a performance and the crowd all rushed to the rail capsizing the ship. No lives were lost but Matt's show was out of business and Matt was broke. When he got a new show together, he went back on the road. He found Lili in Madrid and their love was still there. She wanted to wait before telling Toni who she was and joined the show without revealing her identity. But Tojo blew her cover and told Toni her real father committed suicide because of Matt. By the time Matt convinced Toni of the true facts, a fire broke out and it took everyone working together to put it out. The next night the show opened to a packed house. Since Lili had reunited with Matt and they both gladly gave their blessing to Toni and Steve McCabe, Matt announced the new show would be called “The Masters and McCabe Combined International Circus.”
Notes: This film won the Oscar for Best Song by Dimitri Tiompkin “Circus World..The John Wayne March” by City of Prague. It was also the last film Wayne made before his lung cancer surgery.

 

 

The Great Wallendas 1978

Daniel Wilson Productions/NBC
Directed by Larry Elikann

Lloyd Bridges...................Karl Wallenda
Casey Biggs......................Gene Hallow
Lucinda Bridges................Nurse
Britt Eklund.......................Jenny Wallenda
Taina Elg............................Helen Wallenda
Ben Fuhrman......................Gunther Wallenda
Cathy Rigby........................Jana Schmidt

The Great Wallendas were known all over Europe for their spectacular feats on the high wire especially the four man pyramid, all done without a net. But, after 1962, the name only conjured up the tragedy in Detroit when the pyramid failed and two people died. The accident took the lives of Karl Wallenda's son-in-law and his nephew while crippling his only son. Despite his personal loss, Karl was determined to bring back the glory days. He insisted the family recreate the pyramid. It meant both a physical and personal struggle but, after some near disasters, they were finally ready. On November 19th, 1963 in Fort Worth, Texas, the Great Wallendas performed the pyramid to perfection.
Notes: At 68, Karl again defied fate with a high wire walk over the Tallulah Gorge in Georgia. But fate had the last call. Karl Wallenda was killed when he attempted a walk between the two towers of the ten story Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He was 78.

 

 

 

 

and, of course, everyone loves

 

 

 

“Dumbo”!  1941

The story of a sad little elephant with too-big ears and only a mouse for a friend. After a series of mis-adventures Dumbo learns he can fly and he becomes a circus star.
Notes: This is the shortest of all Disney's animated features.