Updated: June 06, 2012|
The Big Circus - 109 min - Drama - 5 July 1959 (USA)
Joseph M. Newman
Irwin Allen (screenplay), Charles Bennett (screenplay), and 2 more credits »
Victor Mature, Red Buttons and Rhonda Fleming | See full cast and crew
Hank Whirling tries to keep his financially troubled circus on the road despite the efforts of a saboteur who has determined that the show must not go on.
The Big Circus was produced ten years after Cecil B. DeMille's Oscar winning "The Greatest Show On Earth" as brought to a close a decade of circus genre films. In this film, Victor Mature plays Hank Whirling, half owners of the Whirling-Borman Brothers Circus - The Biggest Show on the Face of the Earth.
The film begins with Whirling breaking off from the Borman Brothers with his half of the circus. He seeks financial backing from one of the oldest establishments on Wall Street - they will back the project, but aren't sure of the man. They force him to accept straight-laced Red Buttons as his financial adviser.
Buttons hires the beautiful Rhonda Fleming as the shows press agent and soon to be love interest for Mature. Things begin to go wrong for the show at the first Press Party when an escaped lion slinks ferociously into the tent while the party is going on.
There are so many possible villains to choose from. Is it the aloof ringmaster played with understated style by Vincent Price? Could it be the daring aerialist, played by film heavy Gilbert Roland? The lovable, but scary clown played by Peter Lorre? Or even the head man himself, Henry Jasper Whirling played by Mature - can you REALLY trust someone with the middle name of JASPER?
The escaped lion is followed by a freak fire that almost kills off all the circus animals and a train wreck that kills Roland's wife. Meanwhile the natural disasters are taking their tolls on the shows success - harsh and brutal rains diminish audiences while the Bormans' bask in the sunshine.
The show is going to go under if something BIG doesn't bring back the crowds. Mature influences, forces and shames Roland's wire walker to "Walk The Falls" for the good of the show. Cross Niagra Falls walking a tight rope!
We still do not know who the real villain is, but we know he has one last chance to bring the show to it's knees.
Buttons does a great turn as a foil to Mature's anger and bumbles his way through a classic clown routine doubling for an incapacitated Lorre. Kathryn Grant is great as Whirling's sister.