I saw this circus melodrama in October 2007 at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone; the annual festival has made a welcome return to that town after eight years in nearby Sacile ... a town no less beautiful, but in Sacile the festival's programme was split between two smaller cinemas at opposite ends of the town, thus forcing me (and other attendees) to hustle back and forth from one screening to another.
The original negative of 'Looping the Loop' was lost in a lab fire; the print screened at Pordenone was loaned from a Munich Stadtmuseum print, which in turn was restored using out-takes that weren't included in the release edit: I'm surprised that these had been saved. At several points in the movie, the shot matching or camera angles seem ill-chosen: this may have been the result of substituting out-takes for the original footage.
Here we have a sawdust triangle, unfortunately just a bit too similar to those in several other big-top dramas of the period, notably 'He Who Gets Slapped', 'The Unknown' and 'Variety'.
Werner Krauss (who will always be Doctor Caligari for me) gives a stand-out performance as a circus clown who performs under the name Botto. He's in love with the much younger Blanche, a pretty girl with the troupe. Blanche in turn is infatuated with Andre, the handsome daredevil acrobat. One look at the dumpy porridge-faced Botto (with or without his clown slap) makes it obvious that he hasn't a chance of competing with the muscular Andre.
Botto has enough sense to realise that a clown is not a romantic figure, so he courts Blanche by pretending to be an electrician whose job (conveniently) keeps him elsewhere whenever it's showtime for Botto. The fact that Blanche is deceived makes me wonder if she's intelligent enough to be worth courting in the first place ... but then neither Botto nor Andre seems interested in Blanche for her frontal lobes. (The ones in her brain, I mean.)
Werner Krauss's eyes are astonishingly expressive, conveying a wide range of emotions and often shifting gears (as it were) within the same close shot. For some reason, I kept picturing Emil Jannings and Paul Wegener playing this same role: either would have been excellent, yet Krauss was probably the best casting for the part. Sig Arno (later a Hollywood character actor) is briefly effective as another circus artiste.
SPOILERS COMING. The film's title, 'Looping the Loop', refers to a daredevil stunt which Andre performs at the climax of his act. And here, again, I was reminded of yet several more circus films: 'The Third Degree', 'The Devil's Circus', 'Laugh, Clown, Laugh' (Lon Chaney sliding down a guy wire, with fatal results), and also Murnau's '4 Devils' (which I haven't seen, but I've read the Herman Bang story on which it was based). Andre ends up with a broken neck, yet is able to wink to indicate this doesn't matter! Aye, it's physically possible for a quadriplegic to wink, but I found it implausible that Andre would do so in this situation.
'Looping the Loop' is well-made and extremely well acted (especially by Krauss), but somehow this circus movie feels too similar to several other circus movies from the same period. My rating: only 7 out of 10.
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