MAN ON A TIGHTROPE (1953)

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Fredric March is The Man On A Tightrope.  He plays a circus manager who is also the chief  clown who walks a tightrope.

This a fascinating Fox film , and one  I had never heard of until recently.

It is based on  real life events in 1950 when the Brumbach Circus escaped from East to West Germany.

Set in Czechoslovakia, March is Karel Cernik who owned the Circus Cernik until the Communist authorities took it over and let him stay on as manager. Gloria Grahame plays his second wife, Zama and Terry Moore is his daughter,Tereza.

Unknown to most of the circus troupe,Karel has been planning to take the whole circus to Bavaria to get out of the clutches of the regime. Adolphe Menjou is Fesker, a party propaganda officer based in Prague. He is suspicious of Cernick and calls him in for questioning.

 

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That’s Fredric March in clown costume.

 

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The start of the film when the circus wagons have to make way for a military convoy.

 

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That’s supposed to be March on the high wire, but obviously a double.

 

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There is a very brief scene with Terry Moore as Tereza doing her act with the horses.

 

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Gloria Grahame as Zama .  From the start of the film, it’s obvious Zama know longer admires her husband who is older than her. She almost throws herself at Rudolph the lion tamer (Alex D’Arcy) who isn’t interested. Rudolph says, “The curse of my life is that I’m a handsome man!”

Alex D'Arcy

Alex D’Arcy

 

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Tereza is in love with Joe (Cameron Mitchell), one of the circus hands whom Cernick is suspicious of as he has only been with the circus for a short time.

 

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Zama looks after Kalka (played by  Hansi from the Brumbach Circus.) Cernik fires him when Kalka tells Cernik’s rival circus owner Barovik (Robert Beatty) that Cernik plans to break through the Iron Curtain.

 

 

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This lady plays Cernik’s mother and is in fact Madame Brumbach of the real circus.

 

 

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Cernik is interrogated by John Dehner and Adolphe Menjou. They are annoyed because he hasn’t followed their orders to change part of his clown routine to discredit the West.. He points out audiences didn’t laugh.

 

 

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Krofta (Richard Boone) is a long term employee of Cernick, but he accepts the new regime.

 

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The audacious plot to transport an entire circus, animals and all, in broad daylight across the border to Bavaria is very well done. All done on location in Bavaria.

 

 

One terrific scene is when the rival circus owner,Barovik comes to see Cernik and tells him that he knows of his plan to escape. Cernik thinks that Barovik will turn him in, but he doesn’t . They are after all circus people. Cernik tells him he will leave Barovik his tents and some equipment.

Cernik suggests that they have a mock fight for the benefit of the policemen who are outside his wagon, so that they will not suspect Barovik. The two men almost destroy the wagon!

I was surprised to see Robert Beatty as I have only ever seen him in British films.

 

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The end scenes as the entire circus moves slowly ( elephants and caged lions included), are exciting. The circus band plays, the parade passes guard watch towers as they head for a bridge to freedom. American patrols are on the other side of the bridge. The soldiers think they are being given a free show.

Not every one survives.

Fredric March is is excellent as always, and the supporting cast is very good, though Gloria Grahame’s character is severely underwritten. Despite playing stepmother and daughter, she and Terry Moore have hardly any scenes together.

Well directed by Elia Kazan, there is also some great music from Franz Waxman.

 

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