Lollobrigida Gets Caught in the Act
Admittedly I have not watched many "Circus" movies but of those I have watched there is usually an issue of being bloated with nostalgic glimpses of circus life and the performers doing what they did best. Now whilst these movies such as "The Magnificent Showman" and "The Greatest Show on Earth" certainly create that sense of what the circus was once like they do also end up feeling like they have been stuffed with unimportant scenes. But then there is "Trapeze" a circus movie which is very different because whilst we still get treated to some circus performances they provide the backdrop to the drama rather than ending up like padding. And as such "Trapeze" is a circus movie all about the story rather than about what the circus was once like.
Mike Ribble (Burt Lancaster - Field of Dreams) was once one of the World's greatest circus Trapeze artists, one of the few who could do the triple till an accident left him crippled. Still part of the circus, working as a rigger, enthusiastic young trapeze artist Tino Orsini (Tony Curtis - The Rawhide Years) tracks him down and persuades him to not only train him to be the 8th person to do the triple but to also be his catcher in a new act. All is well until attention seeking Lola (Gina Lollobrigida - Never So Few) wants in on the act and uses her sexual charms to work her way into Tino's life and between him and Mike.
One of the best things about "Trapeze" is that it gets straight into the story as we witness Mike falling from doing the triple; it's a dramatic opening which even now grabs your attention. And what follows quickly introduces as to Tino who wants the crippled Mike to teach him how to do the triple. It is all rather obvious as we witness Mike being a heavy drinker who doesn't want anything to do with the trapeze anymore but at the same time it establishes the relationship between them. By that I mean for the first part of "Trapeze" we basically have the teacher and pupil thing going on as having agreed to teach him Mike teaches Tino everything about the trapeze business and finds a new enthusiasm for living which he lost since the accident.
This first half is entertaining as Mike fine tunes Tino, controlling him from getting ahead of himself and basically making him a better trapeze artist than he was. Yet at the same time we become aware of the manipulative Lola as she tries to become the centre of attention for a group of tumblers, lying her way in to getting more to do.
Now what follows on from here is all quiet obvious as Lola sets her sights on becoming part of the trapeze act and uses all her wiles to manipulate her way into the act coming between Mike and Tino in the process. Most of this plays as you expect with Mike opposed to having a spotlight stealing woman in the act whilst Tino has his head turned causing tension and resentment to surface. It's not completely straight forwards and there is a bit of a surprising outcome but the tension and romantic tribulations are for the most text book.
Whilst the storyline to "Trapeze" ends up becoming quite routine the performances are most certainly not. When we meet Tony Curtis as Tino his enthusiasm is just brilliant and watching Tino trying to impress Mike with his gymnastic ability is great fun, the stuff of a young boy showing off to their peers. And who better than Gina Lollobrigida to play the sexy Lola as not only does she look stunning in the body hugging outfits but she gets across both Lola's manipulative streak and her need to be the star. But the best performance is from Burt Lancaster as Mike because Lancaster had been an acrobat in the circus before he became a movie star and everything he does is so natural. From the way he moves around the equipment to doing his own stunts on the trapeze it is simply authentic and that makes a huge difference.
But what really helps "Trapeze" stand out from other circus movies is that it isn't someone's nostalgic look at the circus, it is first and foremost a drama. As such there are no scenes where the camera purely focuses on circus acts performing but instead places them in the backdrop to the drama. It means that at 105 minutes "Trapeze" flows along nicely and the story never gets interrupted by some nostalgic scene of clowns having fun or lion tamers doing something dangerous.
What this all boils down to is that "Trapeze" is a very good movie and one of the better circus movies. It doesn't have the greatest of storylines, to be honest when the love triangle arrives you know what will happen but it keeps you watching especially when you have Burt Lancaster doing his own stunts on the trapeze and Gina Lollobrigida at her sexy best.