Big Circus, The (AA 1959 with Victor Mature, Vincent Price and Red Buttons)

USA / AA / 109 minutes / 1959

Writers: Irwin Allen, Charles Bennett, Irving Wallace / Cinematography: Winton C Hoch / Music: Paul Sawtell, Bert Shefter / Producer: Irwin Allen / Director: Joseph Newman

Cast: Victor Mature, Red Buttons, Rhonda Fleming, Kathryn Grant, Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Gilbert Roland, David Nelson, Adele Mara, Steve Allen,

Victor Mature plays Hank Whirling, the owner of a circus on its last legs. A bank loan overseen by Randy Sherman (Red Buttons) and press agent Helen Harrison (Rhonda Fleming) could help him back to his feet but there’s also a saboteur at work whose increasingly desperate actions eventually lead to death and destruction…

This was Irwin Allen’s first major outing as a producer and it set the tone for many of his later films such as Five Weeks in a Balloon and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Taking the theme of Cecil B De Mille’s The Greatest Show on Earth, he recruited a cast of established actors and set up a similar plot, including a train crash. But this isn’t simple plagiarism – Allen knew the virtue of briskness and fun and the film moves at speed, including a tightrope walk across Niagara Falls set up by Harrison without telling rope-walker Gilbert Roland, and a thrilling climatic chase after the saboteur.

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