(director: Elia Kazan; screenwriter: story by Neil Paterson/Robert E. Sherwood; cinematographer: George Krause; editor: Dorothy Spencer; music: Franz Waxman; cast: Fredric March (Karel Cernik), Terry Moore (Tereza Cernik), Gloria Grahame (Zama Cernik), Cameron Mitchell (Joe Vosdek), Adolphe Menjou (Fesker), Robert Beatty (Barovic), Alex D’Arcy (Rudolph), Richard Boone (Krofta), Hansi (Kaalko, the Dwarf), Pat Henning (Konradin), Paul Hartman (Jaromir), John Dehner (The Chief), Philip Kenneally (The Sergeant), The Brumbach Circus (Themselves); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Robert L. Jacks; 20th Century Fox; 1953)

Writer Robert E. Sherwood never gets the screenplay to gracefully walk across the tightrope.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Acclaimed directorElia Kazan (“On The Waterfront”/”A Streetcar Named Desire”/”Gentleman’s Agreement”) helms, possibly, his poorest film. A flat but plausible anticommunist adventure set inCzechoslovakia, in 1952, that revolves around a struggling traveling circus troupe who are trapped behind the Iron Curtain, a rebellious daughter’s romance, a Cold War parable and a search for freedom. The story by Neil Paterson is based on fact. Writer Robert E. Sherwood never gets the screenplay to gracefully walk across the tightrope.

Karel Cernik (Fredric March) is the clown-manager of an old-time troupe of Czechoslovakian circus performers, who are on the Eastern Europe circuit. In 1952, Czechoslovakia is under Communist rule and the independent-minded Cernik is vexed by the red tape of the bureaucratic government, that his star performers are drafted into the army and his circus equipment is listed as government property. The last straw for Cernik is when he’s ordered by the authorities to introduce pro-communist messages in the act. With that, the proud Cernik makes plans to seek asylum in neighboring Austria. Trouble arises when Cernik learns that one of the circus performers is a spy, who works for the secret police tool Fesker (Adolphe Menjou). The poor circus head also has personal problems, such as dealing with his sexy daughter Tereza (Terry Moore) and his flirty younger wife number two, Zamba (Gloria Grahame). Tereza displeases dad and her stepmother Zamba by having an affair with the untrustworthy lion tamer Joe Vosdek (Cameron Mitchell).

The circus atmosphere is captured by having the Brumbach Circus play themselves. The acting is decent, but not great (too theatrical). But what kills the pic, is that the trite script has too many holes to overlook and its dullness speaks for itself.

It was filmed in Bavaria.

Cameron Mitchell and Terry Moore in Man on a Tightrope (1953)

REVIEWED ON 10/12/2011 GRADE: C+