The Big Circus 1959

This was shown on TV in England a year or two ago and I have not seen that it has been on since.   Prior to that it must be years since it had last been shown – which is a shame really for such a good entertaining film – with some very well known stars.

The Big Circus


THE BIG CIRCUS. Allied Artists/Warner Brothers, 1959. Victor Mature, Rhonda Fleming.

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In this film Victor Mature is ideally cast as Hank Whirling, a circus owner who has just split with his partners and needs  a loan to keep the Whirling Circus going.

Victor Mature was held in high regard by Film Producers – because he was rarely in a film that did not make money –

and many of them like Samson And Delilah made a LOT of money.

Victor Mature’s character ends up in partnership with banker Randolph Sherman (Red Buttons) and publicity agent Helen Harrison (Rhonda Fleming), neither of whom he wants.


The Whirling Circus is a family affair; the prime players being ringmaster Hans Hagenfeld (Vincent Price), sardonic clown Skeeter (Peter Lorre), high wire and trapeze stars The Great Calinos, Zach and Mary (Gilbert Roland and Adele Mara), their catcher Tommy Gordon (David Nelson), and Hank’s sister Jeanie (Kathryn Grant) who dreams of working the trapeze one time before she settles down (her mother fell to her death from the trapeze).

Money problems and his unwanted partners aren’t all that plague Hank — sabotage  is making his life  difficult: a lion escapes and threatens a press party, a fire breaks out and threatens the animals, a train wreck kills two people, one of them Mary Calino, and strands the show. Add to that bad weather and the bank threatening to sell the show  and only a miracle can save them.


The miracle being Zach Calino walking the high wire across Niagara Falls But just before he is to make the walk his wife (Adele Mara) is killed in the train wreck and Zach loses his nerve. Hank makes him mad enough to go through with it, but at the risk of losing his oldest friend.

Then the saboteur in the circus troupe plans to strike while the circus plays in New York while Victor Mature has to keep a low profile to avoid the man sent from the bank to foreclose (Howard McNear )

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It all builds to a suspenseful finale as the killer is trapped in the centre ring, after trying to kill Jeanie when she makes her debut with Zach Calino on the trapeze

The mystery element is done fairly well, with suspicion falling on almost everyone — particularly Vincent Price.

This film is certainly worth seeing, and a fine cast  along with a well written script and good direction and camera work

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Above: Peter Lorre,  Gilbert Roland and Victor Mature in a scene from the film

All the performers are at their best with Red Buttons more subdued than usual, and Kathryn Grayson in a non-singing role is fresh and attractive. Rhonda Fleming is as gorgeous as usual, and Gilbert Roland. Vincent Price and Peter Lorre both have their moments, and Victor Mature has a nice presence in the kind of part he often played as a fast talking faster thinking promoter with a heart well hidden behind the million dollar smile.

At one point after the train crash the circus is stranded and Victor Mature has the idea of using the elephants, “like Hannibal,” to get to their next play date.

The Big Circus may not be as gaudy as Cecil Mille’s  Greatest Show on Earth but it is entertaining , hits all the marks, and delivers  the thrills, smiles, and laughs it intends to do, and does so with a more than usually attractive and capable cast.

It’s pretty big entertainment, even on the small screen.

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