The Magnificent John Wayne
14 years after Lili Alfredo (Rita Hayworth) ran away from the circus following the death of her husband, owner Matt Masters (John Wayne) is still haunted by what happened and the loss of the woman he loved, left to raise Lili's daughter Toni (Claudia Cardinale) as if she was his own. Still longing to see Lili, Matt decides to take the circus to Europe in the sly hope of finding Lili despite deep down knowing it will cause issues if Toni ever learned the truth about what happened and why. But that is not Matt's only concern as not only is Toni starting to attract the attention of the handsome Steve McCabe (John Smith) but whilst putting on a show on a boat disaster strikes leaving Matt with nothing, no tent, no performers and no money.
"The Magnificent Showman" or "Circus World" as it was originally called will appeal to two sorts of people. The first sort are John Wayne fans as whilst we may see him in a different situation, the circus world, it is still Wayne playing his usual popular, heroic type of character. The other sort are those who have nostalgic memories of going to the circus, watching the clowns, the trapeze artists and trained animals entertain the masses. But as such anyone who watches "The Magnificent Showman" in the hope of something other than nostalgia and John Wayne playing John Wayne are likely to be disappointed because whilst we have a storyline it is not the most riveting.
You can split "The Magnificent Showman" into 3 clear sections with most of the movie feeling like it is built around John Wayne being John Wayne. That is not a criticism but we have John Wayne as circus owner and showman Matt Masters playing the popular boss, the leader of people who is tough but fair, is hard working and so on. We watch as Matt's circus not only suffers one disaster but two and both times we have Matt doing some heroics be it saving animals or stopping a fire from destroying everything. And we have also having him as the sharp shooting showman firing a rifle and reloading it one handed. It is basically what John Wayne did and it is fun for those who are fans of John Wayne.
Then there is the nostalgic side of "The Magnificent Showman", the various scenes of circus performers doing what they did best. So we have the fun of clowns basically clowning around, animal trainers making horses do tricks, a lion tamer risking his life with a cage of lions as well as various other circus acts. Now it would be so easy to look down your nose at all this, especially now when having trained circus animals is frowned upon but it also serves up a sense of nostalgia. For those who did look forward to the circus coming to town and watching all of these talented people you do get a wonderful show. It's impossible not to be amused by the agile clowns who tumble around as well as the stunning trapeze artists.
And then finally there is the story, yes the story does come last because most of "The Magnificent Showman" is built around John Wayne being John Wayne and the circus acts. Now as storylines go it is rather plain, a bit of mystery which lead to a death 14 years earlier and Matt raising the daughter of the woman he loved and who he has been longing to see again ever since she ran away following the death. It's all very obvious and you know how all of this is going to end and not to spoil things you know any issues and old wounds will be healed. Add to that a couple of romantic subplots and it is pretty generic with little to really get you gripped. In fact the one element of this story which could have got you gripped ready for some excitement is brushed under the rug.
"The Magnificent Showman" is so much a John Wayne movie, in fact David Niven walked away from the movie because of this, that the rest of the cast get little room to shine. Claudia Cardinale who plays Toni seems to have been cast because she is young and beautiful, fitting the character, but fails to bring her character to life. And then there is Rita Hayworth as her mum Lili who to be honest is so under used that it hurts and it hurts because the scenes she shares with John Wayne are so good yet there are not enough of them. Of course it doesn't help that Lili's character doesn't show up till the half way mark.
What this all boils down to is that "The Magnificent Showman" is to be honest a shallow movie which is little more than John Wayne playing John Wayne with some wonderful nostalgic shots of what circuses were once like. It does lack a decent storyline and what there is ends up ultimately unimportant but for those who like John Wayne movies will enjoy him playing the circus showman even if it is the same performance he did in many a movie.