There were not many films made about the circus, but this one tops them all by far. Much better than DeMille's melodramatic soap opera which won an Oscar for Demille by default.
Getting back to Trapeze, this film combines a wonderful story with beautiful acting from the stars and supporting cast, and the photography of the aerial stunts will leave you felling as though you attended the circus in person. Lancaster who at one time actually performed in a circus act, gives a towering performance and Curtis and Lollabridgida are terrific as well. This is easily the gorgeous Gina'a best dramatic role, and we see that she was a very much underrated performer in her time.
Thomas Gomez and Katy Jurado are wonderful in support as are all the lesser players. This is a look at the real circus from inside. It's about the longings about real stars and the ways they attempt to achieve and hold on to that elusive stardom.
This film does not contain a dull moment and has a fantastic climax that will keep you glued, and on the edge of your seat as if you were sitting ringside.
It is somewhat a shame that this great film is not well known at this time and of course would never be mentioned on any top 100 or even 1,000 list, but long after Casablanca and Citizen Cane have been relegated to their rightful places in history, this film and many others will be truly recognized for the masterpieces that they are.
This movie is pre Bacall and during and after Bacall. The pre part is much better. It's not Bacall's fault. The best part of this film comes near the end. If you recall, shortly after Art's death and his breakup with Amy, Rick embarrasses himself on the bandstand one night, and the bandleader follows him to the dressing room to give him a severe reprimand. He tells Rick that the boys in his band don't drink while their working. Rick replies that he has to drink to listen to his kind of music or he'd go nuts. The leader retorts, that Rick has done pretty well with his kind of music, and who ever heard of him before he gave him a break. Then, the leader says "what do you think this is a spasm band like Art Hazzard's". Then Rick replies with what every real musician has wanted to say to every leader, fan, critic, mother in-law, well, basically anyone who just doesn't have a clue about music. Any music, not just jazz.(Symphonic musicians want to say the same thing to some idiot conductor for example). Rick says: "Why you stupid....if that tin ear of yours could really hear the kind of music that Art Hazzard was playing, you'd go out and shoot yourself". That's what the story, the characters of Rick and Smoke, and Beetoven for that matter, is really all about. Smoke sums it up later when he says something like "you know who buys records, 14 year old girls, to learn the words. The only guys who care about the music are the guys who are doing it". Only a dedicated musician (and that's the tragedy) understands what's going on up there. That's the frustration. Of course it used to be a little different back when this film was made, because at least then, people put a priority on at least learning an instrument. It was considered important to a person's growth and education. Shari Lewis, the late puppetteer, creater of lamb chop, once said that "Music is not secondary. It is as important as the three r's" (reading, writing and rithmatic). To further illustrate, I recall viewing one of the local news stations in New York . On their own, the stars and crew of the broadcast decided to make up their own top ten list of the greatest songs ever. There was not one song on that list that pre dated 1965. Imagine, totally ignored were the songs of Gershwin, Kern, Rodgers and Hart/Hammerstein, Vernon Duke, Cole Porter ,etc. By the completion of the list I was so disgusted, I wanted to say the same thing to them that Rick said. "Why you stupid.... One reviewer on this site expressed that he guessed you have to be a musician to really understand this movie. He is probably right, but maybe you don't have to be a professsional, some first hand knowledge might at least be helpful. I have known many horror stories like Rick's . Not only Bix died young, but Fats Navarro and Bunny Berigan were also great trumpet players who died young of alcoholism. Let's not forget Mozart as well. A very young friend of mine, Wes Norris (piano player) died at the age of 28 from the same affliction. I could go on. But you are probably glad that I won't. Musicians while on the bandstand have amusing ways of dealing with the ignorance of leaders, fans, etc. The musicians have substitute names for some of the songs they hate. When for instance the leader would call out "Memories" it is referred to as Mammaries. "Feelings" is known as Ceilings. Of course nicknames are also given to songs that they like. "I only have eyes for you" is I only have ICE for you and "Cry me a river" is FRY me a LIVER. And I can't tell you how many collective groans went up when ever "In the Mood" had to be played. Yes! "In the mood" was a favorite of many a musician in his youth, but as they matured they grew out of it. Of course the groan was partly due to the constant requests for it. When sometime in the future , historians look back on the current period, they will call it(with the exception of salsa) the dark ages of music. Even the musicians or at least a great many of them don't know what they are doing. And you can take that to the bank. Many of todays artists wouldn't even be able to play what was heard in this film. That's because this film's music is so much more complicated than the music of the last forty years, and it takes so much more virtuosity to play a non electrical instrument. The electronics of the new music is very limited in color, tone, dynamics and variety of sound. This relatively new emphasis on electricity,(akin to special effects in the movies) is responsible for a good deal of the ignorance around us. It's like when some 14 year old reviewer says that the greatest movie of all time is "Jaws" or "Star Wars" III, when he's never even heard of "Sunset Bouelevard". In the movie "Barbershop", Cedric the Entertainer tells Ice T, "that's the trouble with your whole generation, you have no history". The fine musician knows whom and what has come before him, just like Rick knew Art. Miles knew Dizzy, and Dizzy knew Eldridge, and Eldridge knew Louie, and Louie knew Oliver. Mozart knew Bach and Beetoven knew Mozart. etc. Charlie Parker knew Stravinsky and Leonard Bernstein knew the great Louie Armstrong. I wonder what Snoop Dog knows?
What can I add to what has already been so beautifully said. This is one of my favorite movies and Milland is excellent. I just want to draw attention to the drunk tank scene and report a tendency about alcoholism. Frank Faylen as Bim is just great. I love when he says "What kind of Birnam"? and "This is nothing. You should have seen the place during prohibition. Standing room only". And of course, "That stuff about pink elephants. It's the bunk. Its little animals, tiny turkeys in straw hats". Finally, there have been some observations that the girlfriend sticking by Birnam through all of this mess is unbelievable, unrealistic, why would she and so forth. The facts of alcoholism are quite different however. Sticking around is quite common. The film portrays their continuing relationship quite accurately.
There's this movie and then there's everything else
It will not be difficult for me to describe my feelings and thoughts about this film. It is simply the best I have ever seen. Fredric March(the most overlooked of great actors) gives the greatest performance by a leading man ever, as the returning sergeant who was previously a banker. In real life, March was indeed a banker for a short while. Maybe that is part of the reason his performance is so elegant. This movie reaches so many areas of human behavior, by exploring the families reactions to the returning veterans and the later relationships between the men themselves, that it's apparent complexity is in reality the simplicity of the continued struggle for survival. Of course the rest of the cast is wonderful. Including the colorful Hoagy Carmichal as Butch, the local tavern owner, who also happens to play piano. Here's an interesting twist. In one scene Homer (the disabled vet) asks Butch if he remembers how to play " Up A Lazy River". After nodding, Butch starts to play the song and while he plays he questions Homer about why he's not at home with his family. Now in 1946, Homer's musical request must have been humorous to the viewing audience because Hoagy Carmichael wrote that song, and the audience must have known it. Carmichael was at the time a big musical star and wrote many famous songs, including "Stardust" and "Georgia On My Mind" (which was later recorded by Ray Charles) among many others. I have seen this movie many times and only came to the aforementioned conclusion during my last viewing about two months ago. That also brings me to a very important part of this film: the music. It is simply wonderful. I was under the impression (until I recently viewed it) that the music was written by Aaron Copland. Now please exuse me for being a bit tutorial, but Aaron Copland for those of you who are not familiar with the name is considered the first great American Symphonic Composer. Leornard Bernstein, the composer of West Side Story, studied with Mr.Copland. The music for the film was composed by Hugo Friedhoffer, a familiar name in many movie credits of the era. What's interesting here is that the similarity between Mr. Friedhoffer's score and Copland is deliberate. Now whether they couldn't get Copland to write the music and told Friedhoffer to make it sound that way on purpose or whether Freidhoffer did it on his own I know not. Either way the unique sound is typically (by now) and primarily American and this is a story about America. It is what we would now call "Americana" This movie is full of emotion. There is great tragedy, humor in abundance, moving music, disappointment, longing for love, peace and security, and even confrontation and violence. It is human in every way. It is the human story. It is wonderful and it is the best, (should I ? oh! why not) "movie of our lives".
The story alone is worth viewing. The very idea of a person abandoning their family in order to follow one's dream, is compelling enough. George Sander's performance as well as Herbert Marshall as Somerset Maughm are both fist rate. No one could have done a finer job at playing the tortured cad then Sanders. If they had another one of those silly top 100 lists, this one for best type casting in a film about cads, then Sanders would win in a trot. He was in real life it appears, the very cad that he played so convincingly on screen. A book was even written about him by an actor friend, Brian Ahearne. The title of the book is "A Dreadful Man". The actor Ronald Coleman would not even allow Sanders in his presence, as he found his disdain and pessimism to much to bear. At the age of 65 Sanders committed suicide in a Paris hotel room just as he had promised actor David Niven years earlier, claiming that by that time he would no longer have interest in women or anything else. (Consult Niven's book "Bring On The Empty Horses") I can understand one user's previous comment about this being Sanders only great role. But Mr. Sanders won an Oscar for playing another cad, the rascal theater critic in "All About Eve". One of my favorite lines in that movie is when he replies to a very beautiful young starlet(Marilyn Monroe) who he has accompanied to a dinner party saying "You have a point. An idiotic one, but a point none the less".
I only use the word surprising because I happened upon this movie very late one night a long time ago. I remember looking in the T.V. guide and seeing that I had a choice between this movie and nothing else. I mean what kind of title is this ? i remember thinking , and starring Vincent Price of all people, who at the time I could only recall from the somewhat silly "The Fly". Well I figured what the hell. So I settled in and expected to be bored and disgusted for as long as I could stand. Then the surprise happened. I was thoroughly captivated by this unique and well made story which to my other great surprise also happened to be true, the attempted theft of the entire state of Arizona by a schemer apparently without equal. Vincent Price's performance completed the trifecta by amazing me with his skill as a legitimate actor. I would very much like to see this movie again but am not hopeful at the present. Like so many others it seems to have vanished. What is interesting about this fact is that when T.V. was free, there was more to choose from, unlike today where we pay to see the same things over and over.
I am not surprised to find only two previous comments about this very good film. Sadly,I have not seen it it many years, as it seems to have disappeared. My most vivid memory is about two particular scenes. The first is between Cagney and his boss (Raymond Massey). When Massey virtually orders Cagney to sober is young nephew up, Cagney replies "can't be done" . When the boss inquires why ? he is told that the drunk must first hear the sound of "angel feathers" . The feathers he relates, is the fear of death. The other scene is the one in which Cagney meets the young nephew who's name is Boyd (played by Gig Young). While completely drunk and laying down on a bed (couch ?) in Cagney's apartment, the two men engage in some banter, whereby Cagney keeps referring to his guest as Boydeee. The nephew having enough of Cagney's mispronunciation, informs him that if he calls him Boydee one more time, he will knock his block off! Cagney then informs him, that he is drunk and that he will knock nobody's block off. This last line is delivered with a smile and style that only the great Cagney was capable of. Upon hearing Cagney's reply, the nephew agrees with a smile of his own and then doses off to sleep. While watching the oncoming sleep, Cagney's expression changes from a smile to a face of concern and something else. The something else may be anger,disgust and or fear. But whatever it is, it in itself sets the tone for the rest of the film. And that look which once again, only Cagney could deliver, tells the audience that someone is in for a great deal of trouble, and part of the trouble is that Cagney doesn't know who is in for the worst of it.
If you think that the Hubbard's of "The Little Foxes" were decadent , then you will see that they have mellowed , compared to this fantastic prequel , also written by the wonderful Lillian Hellman. The cast works extremely well together . This is the only movie that i know of where Fredrich March plays a villain (Jekyll and Hyde doesn't count) and does he do it to the limit . During a night of musical entertainment in is home, he cruelly insults and humiliates one of his guests, his son's (Duryea) girlfriend, by insinuating that her father played Mozart on a little drum. The girl had said that her father played a little drum and at Duryea's insistence drew attention to Mozart in an attempt to please patriarch Hubbard. The humiliation comes complete with facial disdain and tone of voice that only the cruelest of men could provide . The rest of the family with the exception of Hubbard's wife played by the real Mrs.March (Florence Eldridge) is each in their own way a monster . Edmond O'Brien is wonderful as the "chip off the old block" son , and Dan Dureyea is a great contrast as the half fool and half idiot other son. Ann Blyth who plays daughter Regina is captivating as the only one in the world to whom patriarch Hubbard shows any affection . To state any more of this father daughter relationship would reveal to much of the story in the event you are privileged to see this magnificent film . This film is just one of those cases when a chemistry between the cast was achieved , and the result is riveting . This chemistry is in no small way attributable to the great March , who was able to weave a similar magic in "The Best Years Of Our Lives" . Unfortunately my attempts at seeing this movie again , have failed . It seems as though it has disappeared and if it has , it is a shame . This film is a horror story , where the monsters are human beings . They wear no gruesome masks (exept in one Klu Klux Clan scene) or torment anyone Freddy Kruger style . Their horror and ours , is in men and women's souls .