LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, BOYS AND GIRLS... welcome to the big top blog of Douglas McPherson, author of CIRCUS MANIA, the book described by Gerry Cottle as "A passionate and up-to-date look at the circus and its people."

Monday, 2 July 2012

TRAPEZE Starring Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis & Gina Lollobrigida!

Step right up for the best seat in the house: your favourite armchair in front of your telly. July 30 sees the release on DVD of maybe the most atmospheric circus film ever made.

Directed by Carol Reed in the 1950s, Trapeze stars Tony Curtis as Tino, a young acrobat who travels to Paris to learn how to perform the triple-somersault. The one man who can teach him is Burt Lancaster’s Mike Ribble, a drunk and half-crippled former trapeze star who nearly killed himself performing the same death-defying stunt. Reluctantly, Ribble agrees to train the young flyer and returns to the ring to become his catcher.

But when the ambitious and unscrupulous femme fatale Lola (Gina Lollobrigida) joins their act, relationships in the roof of the Parisian circus building become strained to breaking point.
Lancaster was a real life trapeze flyer before he became an actor, and the vertiginous aerial scenes are thrillingly shot. We really feel the queasy swing of the lofty trapeze bar; the heart-stopping flights through mid-air; the jarring thud of the catches and the stomach-turning plunges into the net.

But perhaps even more compelling than the trapeze scenes are the shots of backstage corridors heaving with ballerinas, harmonica-playing dwarfs, silk-costumed clowns, spotted horses and trumpeting elephants.

Shot in beautiful deep colours, every frame is rich in detail. The backstage menagerie, with its camels, lions and giraffe is so vivid you can almost smell the dung and feel the cobbled floor beneath your feet. Even Carry On film favourite Sid James shows up, trying to sell to anyone who will listen the python he has coiled around his shoulders.
Gina Lollobrigida as circus femme fatale Lola in Trapeze
But how realistic is the portrayal of backstage life in the circus? 

One of the most striking aspects of Trapeze is how closely the Parisian circus building where the film is set resembles Britain’s last purpose-built circus building, the Great Yarmouth Hippodrome. It was in the unchanged, ghost-filled backstage corridors and former stables of the latter that I met South American trapeze troupe the Flying Neves and interviewed them about their gravity-defying lives. And it was in the Hippodrome’s ring, on the 100th anniversary of the building, that aerial silk star Eva Garcia plunged forty feet to her death during a performance just days after she described to me her life of glamour, grit and peril.

"A brilliant account of
a vanishing art form."
- Mail on Sunday
So if the thrills and spills of Trapeze whet your appetite for the big top (and you are hugely recommended to buy it and enjoy it) find out more about life and death in the sawdust circle by reading my book Circus Mania! and marvel at the stranger-than-fiction tales of real life circus stars.
Read it and wonder at the lives of the circus breed.

The Great Yarmouth Hippodrome
- a circus building like the one in Trapeze.
Circus Mania takes you backstage.