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TRAPEZE (director: Carol Reed; screenwriters: from the novel The Killing Frost by Max Catto/Liam O’Brien/James R. Webb; cinematographer: Robert Krasker; editor: Bert Bates; music: Malcolm Arnold; cast: Burt Lancaster (Mike Ribble), Tony Curtis (Tino Orsini), Gina Lollobrigida (Lola), Katy Jurado (Rosa), Thomas Gomez (Bouglione), Minor Watson (John Ringling North), Johnny Puleo (Max the Dwarf), Gerard Landry (Chikki), Jean-Pierre Kerien (Otto); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: James H. Hill; MGM; 1956)
“Tacky circus thriller and overwrought love triangle melodrama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Noted knighted Brit director Carol Reed (“Bank Holiday”/”Odd Man Out”/The Third Man”), whose once successful career is in a freefall downward, takes an embarrassing tumble with this tacky circus thriller and overwrought love triangle melodrama. It’s loosely based on the novel The Killing Frost by Max Catto (English writer whose real name was Max Finkell) and is tritely written by Liam O’Brien and James R. Webb. It’s filmed entirely in Paris at the Billancourt studios and at the famed winter circus of Cirque d’Hiver.

Brash young American Tino Orsini (Tony Curtis) arrives in Paris from Brooklyn to meet the former famous trapeze performer Mike Ribble (Burt Lancaster, once toured carnivals and nightclubs as an acrobatic act with his partner and childhood friend, Nick Cravat) at the permanent winter Bouglione Circus. Mike was crippled years ago doing the showstopping triple somersault (becoming only the sixth man in the history of the circus to do that feat) and now works as a tent rigger. Tino’s dad was an aerialist who was friends with Mike in the old days and Tino, who is a circus flyer, wants Mike to teach him how to do the difficult triple somersault. When Mike can no longer put off the persistent kid, he begins teaching him the triple. Mike’s former lover, trick horse-rider Rosa (Katy Jurado), who has returned to the Bouglione Circus from three years performing abroad with her trainer husband Chikki (Gerard Landry), deems that Tino is a talented performer and that Mike should go partners with him again as a catcher to get back in the performing part. Mike heeds her advice and gives up the suds, and gets back into circus performing shape. When the voluptuous Italian trampolinist Lola (Gina Lollobrigida, in her American debut) and her three male acrobat partners are not signed by the circus owner (Thomas Gomez), only Lola is wanted, she realizes after watching Tino and Mike practice that they will be the new circus main attraction and the scheming lady decides to hitch onto their success by joining their act and tricking her partners into leaving. But the stuffy old-fashioned Mike doesn’t want a woman in the act, so the wily sexpot turns to wooing the younger man. The circus owner finally insists that Mike take Lola in the act, and the film then gives us a by the numbers tired romance story of how Lola courts the younger man but really loves the older one. When the older one responds to Lola’s love, she tells him she doesn’t want to hurt the younger one’s feelings but goes with him to a motel. It leads to a fallout with Tino that’s predictably healed at the climax, where Mike coaxes the kid to do the triple at the circus show and then go back to New York with a contract from John Ringling North and a new partner (Jean-Pierre Kerien), while Mike and Lola take comfort in their love.

The film was a huge commercial hit. Gina’s appealing performance was easily the best thing about the film, and it was beautifully shot by Robert Krasker. Otherwise the intense melodrama wasn’t that high-flying.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”