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Ring a Ding Ding

Trapeze (1956)

     The circus was not an uncommon subject matter in classic films, but I find most movies on that subject take a grim outlook on the lives of the performers under the big top. Take, for example, Freaks about the out-casting of a lot of circus side-show individuals whose disfigurement makes them unsavory and drives them to mangle the normal-looking folks. In The Greatest Show on Earth we experience the not-so-happy lives of the performers, one of which is hiding behind his makeup to avoid arrest. And if murder is more your appetite, Berserk will have you wishing Joan Crawford had ended her career decades earlier. Trapeze joins those but is more closely aligned with The Greatest Show on Earth in that in makes no strides toward horror but focuses instead on the drama among a couple of trapeze artists.

     Burt Lancaster‘s character opens the film performing the first-ever attempted triple somersault in the air before connecting with his “catcher.” The stunt fails, however, and he tumbles into the net before bouncing onto the ground, injuring his leg. Years later, this Mike Ribble works on trapeze rigging for a Paris-based circus and has no interest in “flying” again. His plans are interrupted, however, when Tony Curtis as Tino Orsini arrives wanting the man to teach him the triple somersault. His display of his skill impresses Mike and they begin working together, eventually agreeing to be an act, with Mike as catcher.

     Meanwhile, Lola, played by the voluptuous Gina Lollobrigida, is quarreling with an Italian trio of acrobats whose act she had forced her way into and repeatedly deals with circus master Bouglioni (Thomas Gomez) while relaying false information back to her colleagues about their act. When Bouglioni tells her the group has not been put on the bill, she convinces the man to allow her to be part of the Ribble-Orsini high-flying stunts. To do this, however, she has to weasel her way in. In doing so, she also convinces Tino she loves him, and he reciprocates. The relationship causes a feud within the now-trio of Lola, Tino and Mike that puts their futures in jeopardy as the men continue to work for the triple in the hopes of impressing the Ringling Bros. owner (Minor Watson) and taking their show on the road. Success is in sight, but we are granted only a neutral ending.

     Before becoming and actor, Lancaster was an actual trapeze artist, so this movie allowed him to combine his talents. Although he found the high-flying work easy, Curtis and Lollobrigida certainly faced challenges. Thankfully, stunt doubles were used expertly in this movie to allow all the tricks to appear the work of the actual actors. These doubles would even perform their flips with their faces passing by the camera, but because it occurs so quickly, one cannot recognize the difference. There are some shots that required the actual actors to be hanging onto bars and each other. Those were clearly shot using back projection to make them appear to be in the air and swinging when they were not. Performances by all actors were very strong and this offered a compelling story. I think I enjoyed it more so than other circus flicks because it focused strictly on the trapeze artists and depicted no bearded women or creepy clowns. Everyone took their professions very seriously and none were outcasts that had no choice but to work in the circus. This made everyone more relatable and resulted in a much more enjoyable experience for me. I think we have masterful Director Carol Reed to thank for that.

  • Trapeze is set for 6:30 a.m. ET Nov. 2 on TCM.

Feature: Shopping Spree

     I am going to diverge from the usual review post to share the stack of classic movie DVDs I purchased today. It should be known at the outset that I essentially refuse to buy a DVD unless its $10 or less, which is why most of my lot these days comes in the pre-viewed form from places such as today’s vendor: Half Price Books. Oh, what would I do without that place! Now to find a place for them all.

The Petrified Forest (1936)

First up is 1936’s The Petrified Forest. This was Humphrey Bogart‘s screen debut in which he played the same role as he did in the stage version. Bogie, born in 1899, did extensive theatre work before heading to Hollywood, which in part explains why he never really looked young in movies. Leslie Howard and Bette Davis also star in this flick, and I understand Davis was a bit of terror on the set, having just begun her bitch stage. This is a fantastic story about a diner, a fugitive and the desert. I’d give this either a Ring a Ding Ding or a Wowza!

Mrs. Miniver (1942)

Next in line is Mrs. Miniver with Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon. This is my favorite of Garson’s work in movies I’ve seen so far. It is a touching story of an English family during World War II. The flick won Best Picture for 1942 and rightfully so. As she deals with family members in the military, a home partially destroyed during an air raid and an enemy soldier visiting her home, Mrs. Miniver provides the backbone for stabilizing all that is going wrong around her. I’m going to agree with the Academy on this one and give it my first Wowza!

Beat the Devil (1954)

In Beat the Devil a band of con artists go after a bogus uranium mine. The cast includes Bogart, a blonde Jennifer Jones and Gina Lollobrigida, whose name I always associate with her lusty chest  more than anything else. I honestly don’t remember much of this film other than I thought it was good. It is written by Truman Capote , which is usually promising, and directed by John Huston, a plus for any adventure picture. The best my memory can do for me is to suggest a midline rating of Gasser.

East of Eden (1955)

East of Eden was the first James Dean movie I ever saw, and I was instantly caught by his talent. The Academy nominated him for Best Actor for this one. I find it hard to sum up the quality of Dean’s acting other than to say it is breathtaking and haunting. His emotions always seem to come off so raw. In East of Eden he, as usual, is a somewhat ostracized character trying to gain the approval of his father (isn’t he always trying to gain someone’s approval?) This one’s a really enjoyable, emotional piece, so I’ll have to go with Wowza!

Penny Serenade (1941)

Finally we come to Penny Serenade.  I’m pretty certain I have not seen this one, but I could not resist the pairing of Irene Dunne and Cary Grant. The two make a great comic pairing (see My Favorite Wife) but this one appears to be a drama. I like the two enough to want to see how they pull off a story about a couple who endure hardships and find themselves nearing divorce.

Sources: Bette and Joan: A Divine Feud, The Ultimate Bogart by Ernest W. Cunningham.

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