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CIRCUS WORLD (director: Henry Hathaway; screenwriters: Ben Hecht/Julian Halevy/James Edward Grant/from the story by Philip Yordan and Nicholas Ray; cinematographer: Jack Hildyard; editor: Dorothy Spencer; music: Dimitri Tiomkin; cast: John Wayne (Matt Masters), Claudia Cardinale (Toni Alfredo), Rita Hayworth (Lili Alfredo), Lloyd Nolan (Cap Carson), Richard Conte (Aldo Alfredo), John Smith (Steve McCabe), Henri Dantes (Emile Schuman), Wanda Rotha (Mrs. Schuman); Runtime: 135; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Samuel Bronston; Paramount; 1964)
“John Wayne goes to the Big Top in a Samuel Bronston produced film that has the Duke’s role custom-made to fit his rooting-tooting western persona.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

John Wayne goes to the Big Top in a Samuel Bronston produced film that has the Duke’s role custom-made to fit his rooting-tooting western persona. Henry Hathaway efficiently directs; the capable writers Ben Hecht, Julian Halevy and James Edward Grant manage to come up with only a clichéd script; it’s based on the story by Philip Yordan and Nicholas Ray. It hangs tough for the first hour with plenty of spectacle and circus stunts (performed by circus people as aerialists, clowns, a lion-tamer, an Indian racing a horse around the circus track and horse riding acts), but in its second half sinks into a dreary soap opera romance and follows along the same lines of most circus formulaic films. It was made in Spain and shot in Super Technirama 70.

The plot has struggling American circus owner Matt Masters (John Wayne) taking his three-ring Wild West show on a European tour. Matt pines for aerial performer Lili Alfredo (Rita Hayworth), who split fourteen years ago when her hubby, of the famous Alfredo family trapeze artists, died in a hire-wire accident. She left her young daughter Toni to be raised by Matt. Toni (Claudia Cardinale) is now a pretty 18-year-old who is one of the circus’ stars and is seeing another star in the circus Steve McCabe (John Smith). She doesn’t realize Matt’s her real dad.

In Barcelona there’s a devastating shipwreck whereby Matt’s circus loses most of its equipment. Matt stays in Europe to rebuild his circus, and business manager Cap Carson (Lloyd Nolan), Toni and Steve remain. In Germany Matt first locates Aldo Alfredi (Richard Conte), the brother of Lili’s hubby, and soon after locates Lili, using an assumed name. A down-and-out Lili visits the circus staying in the background while befriending Toni. The innocent girl doesn’t realize the strange lady is her mother. It all leads to a tent fire. But the circus goes on, with mother and daughter reuniting in a hire-wire act.

It has been compared to Cecil B. DeMille’s circus picture, “The Greatest Show on Earth,” and climbs to the same low points to capture the circus tradition through sentiment. Take your pick which had a better display of circus sawdust; most critics favor the DeMille pic. I could hardly see any difference between the two trite films, though I think DeMille had the better spectacle.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”