Clowning Around with Lorre
Having formed his own break away circus, Hank Whirling (Victor Mature) is desperate to secure finance from a bank and he is less than impressed when they agree but with the proviso that their loan assessor Randy Sherman (Red Buttons) travels with the circus in order to control spending. And things get worse when Randy hires Helen Harrison (Rhonda Fleming) to become press agent for the circus much to the ire of Hank. But slowly Randy and Helen grow to understand what being part of the Whirling circus means and despite a few hick ups things start looking good. But lurking in the shadows is a rival circus and a saboteur who is looking to put Whirling out of business.
When it comes to circus movies the two which most people know are Cecil B. DeMille's epic "The Greatest Show on Earth" and "The Magnificent Showman" which is down to it being a John Wayne movie. Unfortunately one which seems to be forgotten is "The Big Circus" which is as good if not better than these better known circus movies. It manages to deliver the excitement of the big top, the fun of the clowns and whilst there is a slim storyline it is enough to be a vehicle for various moments of drama. Plus it features a brilliant cast with Peter Lorre stealing many a scene when ever he is in full clown make-up.
Now when it comes to story the basis of "The Big Circus" is simple, we have the Whirling circus which is struggling financially and having secured investment from a bank, owner Hank not only finds himself with a penny pinching financier in tow but also a press agent. But in many ways this simple storyline is the vehicle for various other little stories whilst taking us behind the scenes as Hank has issues with both Randy and Helen over the way he runs his circus. Those other various little stories include a bit of romance, a death, a spectacular tightrope walk across Niagara Falls as well as betrayal and sabotage. All of these combine nicely to keep you entertained from start to finish never demanding your full attention or trying to over complicate matters.
It means that "The Big Circus" is very much a visual spectacular and right from the start were we see a parade going around the big top it grabs your attention. Yes in this day and age seeing elephants painted from head to toe in bright colours or performing is deemed wrong but it visually represents the spectacle that the circus once was. It is the same with other acts be it lions, performing monkeys, trapeze artists or the clowns. Talking of which whilst "The Greatest Show on Earth" had James Stewart in clown make up "The Big Circus" has Peter Lorre and Lorre wins hands down with some brilliant clowning around. In fact add Red Buttons to that as he gets to show what a comic talent he is in a scene where he dons the clown make up.
Whilst Lorre and Buttons certainly bring a smile to your face Victor Mature nicely leads things as the owner Hank and Vincent Price looks so at home as the ringmaster. In fact the whole cast which includes Rhonda Fleming, Kathryn Grant and Gilbert Rowland all deliver solid performances. It is a case that they each have a part to play and each deliver it with no one person delivering an outstanding performance, well with the exception of Lorre who really is simply funny which in itself is funny because Lorre is the last person you expect to clown around.
What this all boils down to is that "The Big Circus" doesn't really have a strong storyline but a collection of little things from romances to betrayal but they all work nicely together. And then you have the fun of the circus be it watching the clowns, seeing the high fliers or even seeing how things work behind the scenes.