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The Big Circus

The Big Circus (1959) starring Victor Mature, Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Red Buttons

While flipping through channels, I saw The Big Circus on Turner Classic Movies as part of a marathon of circus movies.   Despite my love of the circus, I almost went past until I saw Vincent Price as the ringmaster.   I’m a long-time fan of Vincent Price.  He’s one of the small fraternity of actors who never turn in a poor performance.   Another member of that fraternity is Peter Lorre, who also co-stars here as one of the circus clowns.   I’m glad that I stayed to watch — The Big Circus is an entertaining, although not dreadfully original, movie.

The Big Circus, Vincent Price, 1959In short, the Whirling Circus (clearly patterned after the Ringling Brothers’) is in financial difficulty, run by Victor Mature (as Hank Whirling), with Vincent Price as Ringmaster, Peter Lorre as chief clown, and other major characters being the aerialist Colino family — who has recently been joined by David Nelson, the squeaky-clean son from the classic TV series Ozzie and Harriet.

Former partners of Whirling are attempting to ruin the circus in order to purchase it for a song.  They are behind a series of “accidents” at the Whirling Circus.  These lead to the great aerialist Zach Colino (played by Gilbert Roland) volunteering to do the very dangerous crossing of Niagara Falls on a highwire.  A truly dangerous stunt that hadn’t been duplicated since the great Blondin successfully did it a century ago.  And in the real world has been done in the last week by Nik Wallenda.  A very dangerous stunt.

Shortly before the stunt, Colino’s wife is murdered in another act of sabotage.   Will Zach be able to complete the crossing? Will he lose his nerve? How far will Whirling go? Will the mysterious saboteur be caught? What does a cameo by Steve Allen have to do with this?   As the saying goes, watch and find out for yourself.

Big Circus is a good, entertaining movie.  However, many comparisons have been made to The Greatest Show on Earth, with good reason.  Both are films by famous producers, with all-star casts, focusing on the lives of the performers behind the scenes against a background of sabotage.  Both are good films, and I’m grateful to have seen them both.

Editorial review of Big Circus (1957), courtesy of Amazon.com

Legendary producer/writer Irwin Allen ( “The Poseidon Adventure,” “The Towering Inferno“€) expertly captures the spectacle of the big top, with help from an all-star cast including screen legend Vincent Price (“The Fly,” “House of Wax) as the ringmaster and Peter Lorre (“Casablanca) as a circus clown. A circus owner (Victor Mature — “Kiss of Death“) is on the verge of bankruptcy when his corrupt ex-partners attempt to drive him out of business. When an accountant (Oscar-winner Red Buttons –“Sayonara“) is sent to examine the workings of the circus before a loan can be given, accidents and saboteurs plague the circus.