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April 21, 2011


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Sorry, but I still think watching THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH is akin to watching a train wreck. As for the other circus films, I've only seen FREAKS (much as I love it, I agree with your assessment) and TRAPEZE (which is somewhat poky but entertaining, plus Burt Lancaster doing his own stunts is a joy to watch), although I remember trying to give CARNY a try several years ago and not getting into it.

As far as Waltz goes, your wish may take till Polanski's film version of GOD OF CARNAGE (now just called CARNAGE for some reason) comes out I guess at the end of the year; next up for him is Cardinal Richelieu in the latest version of THE THREE MUSKETEERS, and that has "shades of Hans Landa" written all over it. Doesn't sound like CARNAGE will have that problem, though, not having seen the play, I could be wrong.


MSN and my Internet don't mix. It always asks me about encrypted information going out to a third party. So I say, "sure, whatever," and then it keeps asking me.

Jason M.

The HBO series 'Carnivale' did some pretty compelling things with its Dust Bowl meets Lynchian-carnival type setting. At least until its untimely demise.

And while it spends some time in a carnival setting (which I suppose is different from the circus setting, but I currently choose to ignore that), I would be hard-pressed to classify 'Nightmare Alley' as a circus movie. Still, it's one of the first carnival films I think of. And it's a great, great film.


Well if we're going to include NIghtmare Alley (and I'd agree with Jason M. that carnivals and circuses are different enough to make separate categories), then I'll also throw in for Jack Clayton's adaptation of Something Wicked This Way Comes, which I recently screened for friends last Halloween and holds up very well as a retro late 50's/early 60's film made in the 80's. Everyone loved it.

But if we want to talk real circus movies, what about Jean-Jacques Beineix's Roselyne And The Lions? I got a chance to see the longer director's cut and I thought it was fantastic, and the lion taming material is very impressive in terms of authenticity.

I'll also second the motion on Carnivale. What a great show.

warren oates

What about Bergman's circus movie SAWDUST AND TINSEL? Now there's some big top melodrama.

Victor Morton

The best circus is the allusively-titled THE CIRCUS. It has a pretty good comedian and is really funny and there Is subtext about clowns losing their audiences.


Great reviews, and thank you for that "old ultry-sultry look" comment in reference to Pattinson; now, whenever I see the Twilight ads, I will imagine all the dialogue in the film being spoken by Rocky and Bullwinkle, and will be far more entertained.


Forgot about SAWDUST AND TINSEL. Although you could see that as a warm-up for SEVENTH SEAL and other films, it's very good, and does capture a circus atmosphere well.


Then there's Tobe Hooper's underrated THE FUNHOUSE.

And scarier still, BIG TOP PEE WEE...


What about DUMBO and LOLA MONTES?


Kudos to Glenn for turning that guy's documents around in less than an hour. The dude can do anything.

Since I remember nothing about BILLY ROSE'S JUMBO, I will readily admit to seeing it. Another forgotten circus movie I've seen is George Sherman's THE FLYING FONTAINES starring Michael Callen, Joan Evans and Evy Norlund, a Danish "actress" who made this one film, then did everyone a favor by marrying James Darren and retiring from the screen. She's decent looking in a "we couldn't get Kim Novak" sort of way, but she delivers her lines (phonetically, to my ears) in a charmless, uninflected drone that could appeal to no one (except James Darren, I guess). The other black hole is Rian Garrick, a hunk of beef who plays an injured trapeze artist. Luckily, he returns to the circus as a clown who wears a painted-on frown and teardrops. This saves Garrick the strain of coming up with this emotion on his own. But the primary knock on the film is that the trapeze stunts are almost all underwhelming, and always performed with a net.

I had hoped WATER FOR ELEPHANTS might be good. From the moment I saw TWILIGHT, I fell in love with those hot pecs. Um, Reese Witherspoon's, I mean. Robert Benton. 1998. You could look it up.


WINGS OF DESIRE of course. Sad Berlin Circus O' Life.

Jason M.

Forgot to mention this above, but there is also, of course, Rivette's wonderful 36 VUES DU PIC SAINT-LOUP. The show depicted may not be Barnum and Bailey, but it's genuine circus. Also a magnificent film.


Mad props to jbryant for the reference to SPOONY'S SMOKING RACK in the original TWILIGHT.

In other news, Robert Pattinson dates THE MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMAN IN THE HISTORY OF EARTH, and he doesn't need to care what anyone thinks of his movie or his charmed life. PATTINSON POWER.

A Turner

It is kind of sad to read demeaning comments about Pattinson and Witherspoon, they are great actors, maybe if instead of wondering your mind around other things while watching the movie, the critic should concentrate on watching the movie not just the screen, but the feelings portrayed by the facial and body expressions of actors trying to portray very difficult characters, if you make a comment about young Pattinson, young Stewart, and the rest of twilight characters, unless you read all the books including Edwards version called Midnight Sun, then a viewer could really understand Pattinson facial expressions of the battle of feelings he had for this human girl, thats just one example, I understand the importance of a critic's job in reviewing a film, so I really hope you are more careful in doing your reviews for now on, for the benefit of the people that take the time to read what you wrote.

Glenn Kenny

Very true about "The Circus" and "Sawdust and Tinsel." For some reason, as much as I love "Wings of Desire" and admire the latest Rivette, I tend to think of them as film's with circuses in them, rather than "circus movies."

As for "A Turner"'s complaint, well, I understand worse things have been said to other critics who have had the temerity to doubt the awesomeness of Mr. Pattinson, so maybe I should just let it lie. However, I should like to point out that sometimes admitting that one's mind wandered during a film is just a rhetorical device. If "A Turner" likes, I could show him or her my notes. "A Turner" should also note that "Water For Elephants" is NOT a "Twilight" film, I have never said word one about "young Stewart," I have too much to read already without worrying about the fucking "Twilight" books, and that I am not a twelve-year-old girl. Fact is that Pattinson's just not very good in "Elephants." I'm willing to concede it might not even be his fault; Francis Lawrence is not proclaimed throughout the land as a superb director of actors. It's entirely probable that Mr. Pattinson will do an excellent job in David Cronenberg's gestating "Cosmopolis." As I recall Cronenberg worked wonders with Marilyn Chambers.


Pattinson must be honored to have the likes of Lex and Turner in his fan club.


Too bad I couldn't get past the "wisecracks and hopefully more" - to get anything valuable out of your review of Water for Elephant.

Pete Apruzzese

For me the most memorable circus pictures are, forgive the obvious, "Vampire Circus" and "Circus of Horrors".

Chris O.

I would've gone with the more obvious "Send In The Frowns."

Anyway, Christoph Waltz in Polanski's adaptation of "God Of Carnage" could be a promising turn.

Chris O.

Whoops, lipranzer beat me to the "Carnage" info.
Anyway, fun reviews.


I was going to mention Hooper's THE FUNHOUSE myself, but I figured it had been relegated to "carnival, not circus" status, which is fair enough. Really fun movie, though. And Elizabeth Berridge, and whatnot!

Glenn Kenny

Well, clearly you guys glommed on to the fact that I meant my complaint about the pantheon of great circus movies as a brain teaser/provocation rather than an earnest pronouncement, though I think if I said "Hollywood ostensibly 'family friendly' circus movies" the ostensible point might have held better. In any event, I think if we keep this up we have a good shot at preventing this thread from turning into an episode of "When Pattinson Fans Attack." (Jeez, you'd think I'd called him a douche or something!)

Anyway, yes, Pete: "Vampire Circus"/"Circus of Horrors" POWER!

Jim McCann

One of the funniest reviews I have ever read, especially for a G-Rated movie. And, even more laughable is the response I get from friends whom I forwarded the review - Some don't get it (which makes me laugh even harder) and others who think its a masterpiece of comedy (those being my well educated friends).

Noam Sane

@ Asher, you're probably using a browser other than Internet Explorer. Kind of ridiculous in 2011 that MS can't create a site that works with any browser - as 99.9% of websites do! - but I believe it has something to do with this Windows Live ridiculousness.

I use IE for this site and for some work stuff, prefer Firefox although their version 4 beta seems to suck eggs so far.

Now I'm gonna go read Glenn's kitty piece.


I know this is a movie blog, not a television blog, but any comment on the death of Elisabeth Sladen, who played Sarah Jane Smith on "Doctor Who"? Television shows are revived all the time, but having a character revived, played by the same actor, after a 23 year absence and then given a new series, may be some kind of record.


I woke up this morning remembering no fewer than three circus-themed films I'd seen in the last couple of years (none of which star Robert Pattinson):

RAIN OR SHINE (1930): Though a bona fide Capra enthusiast, I'm kinda lukewarm on this one (some noted cinephiles at Dave Kehr's blog, including Joseph McBride, were more impressed). But it's got great photography by Joe Walker and some brilliant juggling and acrobatics by star Joe Cook (though they're confined to the last 15 minutes or so).

THE CIRCUS QUEEN MURDER (1933): Yet another talented Joe (August) shot this Roy William Neill mystery, providing some great moves and lighting to distinguish a so-so script. Adolphe Menjou stars as a police commissioner investigating a big top murder, and Dwight Frye is his prime suspect.

RING OF FEAR (1954): This features Clyde Beatty and several of his famous troupe, so it has an almost documentary interest that makes its general ineptness somewhat tolerable. It's a nutty movie, with Mickey Spillane playing himself (accompanied by his Mike Hammer model, Jack Stang), KISS ME DEADLY's Marian Carr as an aerialist and Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez boxing a kangaroo. John Wayne produced, James Edward Grant directed (making one wonder how his ANGEL AND THE BADMAN turned out so well), actor Paul Fix co-wrote the script, and William Wellman may have shot some scenes (including perhaps the one effective bit of action, a train stunt?).


Regarding the "African Cats" review: "titular kitties" is the kind of phrase that is just dying to be Spoonerized.

I saw "Jumbo" as a child at a New Orleans theater as one of those "summer movie camp" selections -- I remember thinking the ending seemed wrong, but not much else. When I read the section in "A Confederacy of Dunces" in which Ignatius Reilly sees a movie that simply has to be "Jumbo" (different theater, sadly), I nearly fell out of my chair laughing. I wonder if his reactions to "Jumbo" could be equally applied to "Water for Elephants" -- I wonder enough that I may go reread the passage in question this weekend, although not enough to bother seeing the movie.


How about the circus set Beserk! with Joan Crawford (the other British horror film she made in the late 60s/early 70s along with Trog).


Partisan -- I regard Elizabeth Sladen's middle-aged return to 'Who', the emotional depth arising from the contrast between her (and her character's) real-time ageing with the Doctor's rejuvenation, as one of the highpoints of the rebooted series.

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