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."

Friday, 24 May 2013

Circus acts of the 30s and 40s - Variety Acts and Turns of Pre War and Post War Years DVD review

Meet Joy, taking to the air as one of those ‘Aristocrats of Adagio,’ the Marquis Trio.

Say “Hi” to Elizabeth Collins, looking nervous as she faces the
knife-throwing of husband Martin.

These fabulous images are from Variety Acts and Turns of the Post War Years, which with its companion DVD Variety Acts and Turns of the Pre War Years together bring us six hours of entertainment from the days when Britain really had talent.

Pathé is famous for bringing the nation the news in pictures before television was born. But the company also introduced cinema-goers to the best in light entertainment: serious and comic singers, popular vocal groups, jazz bands, big bands, comedians, magicians and, of most interest to this blog, circus acts.

Staged and filmed with the highest production values and presented in gleaming, needle-sharp black and white, these dips into the archives provide a hugely entertaining glimpse of a golden age when circus and music hall acts co-existed on the same stage.

Highlights include a strongman hammering a six-inch nail into a block of wood with his bare palm... then puling it out with his teeth. Smartly dressed husband and wife team the Melvilles juggle with their dinner plates. Another juggler, the talkative Gaston Palmer, is particularly engaging. Highlight of his act sees him throwing a full bottle into the air. As it spins, he opens his umbrella and catches the bottle upside-down on the point so the water runs off the brolly like rain.
Rehearsing the horses of the Continental Circus
in the 1930s

In addition to performance clips, there are fascinating mini-documentaries including a day in the life of a West End showgirl, a clip of a chorus girl's efforts to set a record for 8000 continuous high kicks, and a look at the horses of the Continental Circus being rehearsed.

The Post War Years includes news footage of many still-potent names, including Laurel and Hardy, Max Miller and Gracie Fields. None light up the screen so brightly as Danny Kaye. Seen clowning around in rehearsals for a Royal Command Performance, his charisma is electrifying.

Ultimately, though, it’s the circus acts who’s appeal remains most timeless, from a performing cockatoo to breath-taking roller-skating - enhanced by slow motion. Martin Collins balancing on a slack-wire and throwing knives at Elizabeth while she’s strapped to a revolving target, would have Cirque du Soleil writing blank cheques.

Variety Acts and Turns of the Pre War Years 1938 - 1939 and Variety Acts and Turns of the Post War Years 1946 - 1949 are released by Strike Force Entertainment, price £14.99

See also my reviews of classic circus movie Trapeze and Mexican circus documentary Circo.

For more on the history of circus and the amazing lives of today's circus performers, read Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away With The Circus.

Click here to buy Circus Mania from Amazon. 

"A brilliant account of a vanishing art form."
- Mail on Sunday 

Joy breathes a sigh of relief now the knives are safely home!

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