Trapeze (1956)

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Burt Lancaster is Mike Ribble, a disabled acrobat who walks with a limp because of a triple somersault that went drastically wrong years ago. Now he’s working as a rigger. Tino Orsini (Tony Curtis) wants to learn the triple and Ribble’s the only guy who can teach him. He doesn’t want to but his ex Rosa (Katy Jurado) persuades him to do it. The men form an act and try to crack the big time but when Italian trampolinist Lola (Gina Lollabrigida) gets between them their plans start to come apart at the seams … Vivid, colourful and atmospheric circus film directed by Carol Reed from a script by Liam O’Brien, adapting a novel called The Killing Frost by Max Catto. The screenplay was credited to James R. Webb but there were uncredited additions by Ben Hecht and Wolf Mankowitz. La Lollo makes her American debut in a starry, well-performed production that shows off Lancaster’s acrobatic skills, well documented by Robert Krasker’s photography (he was responsible for all those tilted angles for Reed in The Third Man.) Curtis is an excellent leading man, full of beauty, brio and bravery. Malcolm Arnold’s score captures the jauntiness and terror of the circus with its captivating sense of danger and daring. The bromance is great fun and La Lollo is an alluring femme fatale, as you’d expect! This was damned by the critics but huge at the box office. Quoi de neuf?!

 

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Murder! (1930)

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Of all of Hitchcock’s early sound films this is probably the most audacious, with its nods to Hamlet and negative portrayal of homosexuality. Herbert Marshall is the one juror in the case of Rex v. Diana Baring (Norah Baring) who believes the actress didn’t commit murder and conducts his own investigation. Behind every good man they say there’s a good woman and in Hitchcock’s case it was of course wife Alma Reville who adapted the novel (and play) Enter Sir John  by Clemence Dane. In later life he would say that you’re buying a play for its construction (so don’t mess with it) and in ways this suffers from the lack of technique enforced by the restrictions of sound cinema at the time (it was the director’s third foray). This is solved to a great extent by the use of the voiceover which has the effect of a series of soliloquies, appropriate for a man who used to tread the boards. Hitchcock was a friend of Gerald du Maurier and the character was more or less modelled on him – it was Marshall’s second sound film and he acquits himself convincingly. One searches for a continuity with later work but here we’re looking at the wrong woman instead of the wrong man (albeit she’s left holding the murder weapon) and even if this creaks like an old door needing some lubrication, the behind the scenes look at luvvies is interesting and there’s a very satisfying ending. In terms of innovation, Hitchcock wanted music so had to have a live orchestra playing. To make Marshall heard above the music and record everyone at once, he had the actor record his lines which were played back on a phonograph during the orchestra’s performance. That man was always full of ideas! He makes his customary appearance passing the murder victim’s house.

Brandy for the Parson (1952)

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Author Geoffrey Household described himself as “sort of bastard by Stevenson out of Conrad” and this was evident in his most famous works, Rogue Male and A Rough Shoot, in which landscape and an upright sort of  Englishness are so important. This is one of his milder stories from Tales of Adventurers, and it has a terrific piquancy about it. Bill (James Donald) and his fiancee Petronilla (the immensely stylish Jean Lodge), head off on their sailboat off the Kent coast where they bump into a young man Tony (Kenneth More) , literally, destroying his boat in the process. They agree to take him to France where unbeknownst to them he’s smuggling back kegs of brandy to a vintner’s in St James’ London (I guess with Brexit this sort of thing will be happening again in a few years!). A pre-dawn collision with a female yachter up a creek leads a customs man to start following them as their collective plans to sell the cargo get more and more complicated and knotty and more people are involved:  boy scouts, a laundryman, a circus, a farmer, a pub landlord. More is the least likely spiv you’ll ever meet, which is a lot of the fun here, as he leaves Bill and Petronilla to lead packponies up a Roman road to their chosen meeting point.Charles Hawtrey, Michael Trubshawe, Frederick Piper and Alfie Bass round out a wonderful ensemble in a film which makes brilliant use of locations.  Adapted by John Dighton and Walter Mead with additions by associate producer Alfred Shaughnessy, who was married to the impressive Lodge. There’s an unexpectedly exciting score by the brilliant John Addison, who would later win the Academy Award for Tom Jones. (He also scored another Kenneth More film, Reach for the Sky.) A different kind of afternoon delight! Who knew? (And the title is from Kipling.)

Boot Hill (1969)

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Aka Trinity Rides Again. Before Han and Chewie … there was Terence Hill and his bear of a companion, Bud Spencer, who died last month. For those not in the know, they made a series of spaghetti westerns under the ‘Trinity’ moniker. This is the only western I know that’s pretty much set at a circus and is the last of the preceding trilogy, God Forgives … I Don’t and Ace High, coming before it. It was renamed on re-release to cash in  on the success of the Trinity trilogy. Hill is Cat Stevens (I know … I know!) who’s been ambushed by a gang but hides away in a circus wagon. He’s helped by Thomas (Woody Strode) who wants him as bait to lure the gang into a trap. They’re led by Victor Buono, that oozing obese musical maestro from What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?.  Hutch (Spencer) lives in a shack with a mute called Baby Doll and they agree to help get Cat’s claim deed back. A big pantomime of the events is re-enacted in the big top, and everyone, even the dwarves and dancers, takes part in a massive shoot-out and the gang is wiped out. If only we all had such good friends. Cat and Hutch ride off to make the Trilogy films. Written and directed by Giuseppe Colizzi who died shockingly young in 1978.

I’m No Angel (1933)

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“A story about a gal who lost her reputation – and never missed it!” Mae West’s only sole screenwriting credit offers good lewd raucous fun in this tale of a circus performer who wings her way to New York and woos rich men but a fortune teller says she will fall for a man with black hair. And he’s Cary Grant, whom West spotted on the Paramount lot one day and made a star. Yowza!