The Big Circus

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The Big Circus
Poster of the movie The Big Circus.jpg
Directed by Joseph M. Newman
Produced by Irwin Allen
Screenplay by Irwin Allen
Charles Bennett
Irving Wallace
Story by Irwin Allen
Starring Victor Mature
Red Buttons
Rhonda Fleming
Music by Paul Sawtell
Bert Shefter
Cinematography Winton Hoch
Edited by Adrienne Fazan
Distributed by Allied Artists Pictures
Release date
  • July 5, 1959 (1959-07-05)
Running time
108–109 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $2.7 million (est. US/ Canada rentals)[1]

The Big Circus is a 1959 film starring Victor Mature as a circus owner struggling with financial trouble and a murderous unknown saboteur. It was produced and co-written by Irwin Allen, later known for a series of big-budget disaster films.


Hank Whirling (Mature) needs a bank loan to keep his Whirling Circus going. He gets it from a stuffy New York City bank, but only on the condition he take along accountant Randy Sherman (Red Buttons) and publicist Helen Harrison (Rhonda Fleming) to help the circus turn a profit.

Hank's top act is the Colino trapeze troupe, featuring family patriarch Zach Colino (Gilbert Roland) and newcomer Tommy Gordon (David Nelson), as well as ringmaster Hans (Vincent Price) and clown Skeeter (Peter Lorre). Unknown to Hank, his little sister Jeannie (Kathryn Grant) has held a lifelong ambition to fly on the trapeze and has been secretly training with the Colino act for the past year.

An unknown saboteur sets a lion loose at a party thrown to celebrate the start of the circus season, terrifying the VIPs in attendance until Hank manages to capture it with the help of Colino. Helen accuses him of staging the incident for publicity. Subsequently, they discover the lion's cage had been deliberately opened.

Harrison and Sherman are infuriated by Whirling's refusal to accept their help. Hank and Helen clash over the best way to publicize the show; he feels she is intruding on his turf because he actually IS a very good publicist. Hank and Randy clash over Randy's firing of 40 roustabouts and replacing them with a stake-driving machine that expedites raising the Big Top. The machine is sabotaged and sets a pile of hay on fire; only swift action by Hank keeps the main top from burning. Hank, Helen and Randy begin to wonder if a saboteur is riding with the show.

The first section of the circus train derails en route to a new stand. Mama Colino (Adele Mara), the show's "den mother," is killed, leaving Zach Colino heartbroken. He loses his nerve and is unable to go on. As he is the star of the show and the show's publicity is built around him, this is a major disaster. Coupled with the foul weather they have been enduring for weeks that keeps the circus goers at home, the books are looking grim. Only glib talk by Sherman keeps the show on the road.

Hank conceives a bold scheme. He will scrap the route he had laid out, do one show in Buffalo, New York, and then slip into New York City three weeks before the Borman Brothers Circus, from whom the Whirling show had broken away, and steal the audience from their rival. But to make his plan work, Whirling needs a major publicity splash. Helen proposes a stunt last performed in the 19th century: walking across the gorge at Niagara Falls. Hank goads Zach into making the wire-walk by calling him a coward. Colino swears that first he will walk the Falls, and then he will kill Hank. But after completing one of the most dangerous wire walks in history, Zach realizes Hank said what he said only to help him, and they reconcile.

With the bank about to foreclose, Hank goes to television star Steve Allen to seek needed publicity for the circus. Allen buys the rights to broadcast the opening night performance in New York City for enough money to pay off the show's line of credit and enable it to go on. When the New York Police Department arrives on the lot looking for Tommy, the Colino Troupe's catcher, and inform the show's management that Tommy is an escaped lunatic, Hank realizes that Tommy is the culprit behind the sabotage and Mama Colino's death.

Jeannie Whirling's debut with the Colino Troupe almost becomes her final performance when Tommy deliberately misses a catch, but she manages to grab onto one of the climbing ropes. While fleeing from Zach Colino, Tommy falls to his death. Down below, Hank and Helen realize what has been obvious to everyone else in the circus: they are in love with each other.



Allen announced the film in 1957. He was going to produce and direct for Columbia and intended to have parts for 40 stars, similar to how he made The Story of Mankind.[2] He wound up making the film for Allied Artists.

Filming started in January 1959 at the MGM studios. Allen was interested in making "an exciting colourful show - something the public can't see on television."[3] Filming took place in early 1959.[4][5]

Famed circus performer Barbette served on the film as a consultant.[6]

Comic book adaption[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "1959: Probable Domestic Take", Variety, 6 January 1960 p 34
  2. ^ SINATRA TO MAKE MOVIE WITH KANIN: Actor and Producer to Team on Latter's 'Devil May Care' --Welles Takes Film Role Wald Adds to Cast Special to The New York Times.. New York Times (1923-Current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y] 27 Aug 1957: 31
  3. ^ HOLLYWOOD ARENA: 'Big Circus' Troupe Works to Equal Big Top's Authenticity and Color By THOMAS M. PRYOR HOLLYWOOD.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 11 Jan 1959: X7.
  4. ^ Laughter Defined by Eddie Robinson: It's Tricky Business, He Says; Artists Flock to 'Big Circus' Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 31 Dec 1958: 13.
  5. ^ LOCAL FILM VIEWS: Return to 'The Lost World' Planned -- New Indian Drama -- Other Items By A. H. WEILER. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 28 June 1959: X7.
  6. ^ "'Big Circus' Coming to Airport Drive-In". The Paris (Texas) News. 1959-11-22. 
  7. ^ "Dell Four Color #1036". Grand Comics Database. 
  8. ^ Dell Four Color #1036 at the Comic Book DB

External links[edit]