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Monday, April 12, 2021

CIRCUS WORLD -- Movie Review by Porfle


Currently watching: CIRCUS WORLD (1964) with John Wayne, Claudia Cardinale, and Rita Hayworth. Also with Lloyd Nolan, Richard Conte, and John Smith of the TV western "Laramie."
Henry Hathaway (TRUE GRIT, THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER) directed this departure from Duke's usual western adventures, although the rugged star still sports his trademark cowboy hat and inimitable swagger.
This time, however, his "Matt Masters" character is a circus owner whose dreams of touring Europe are dashed when the ship carrying his entire enterprise (animals, people, and equipment) all but capsizes in a Barcelona harbor.

After a slow start, this shockingly sudden sequence, which occurs early in the film, is both jarring and breathtakingly spectacular, using a full-scale ship mock-up that rivals the one constructed by James Cameron for "Titanic." 
Several minutes after this impressive spectacle gave way to Masters and his young partner Steve (John Smith) beginning the long, arduous task of putting another circus together, I was still breathless from that thrilling maritime disaster.
The middle part of the film is practically sedate in comparison, settling into an ensemble comedy/drama that focuses on young Claudia Cardinale's aspiring circus performer Toni, her budding romance with Steve, and a very serious subplot about her estranged mother Lili, played wonderfully by veteran actress Rita Hayworth.

The interplay between the various characters isn't as effortlessly light or involving as Howard Hawks managed in Duke's previous adventure "Hatari!", although the script, whose writers included Nicholas Ray, Ben Hecht, and James Edward Grant, mercifully avoids most of the usual circus story cliches. 
It's fun watching Duke and the gang rebuild their finances by working in a wild west show for European audiences, and seeing how he wrangles a circus as opposed to a cattle ranch or lawless town. 
Old standbys Nolan and Conte help keep things real while an appealing young Cardinale adds spark to her scenes four years before she would attain screen immortality as "Jill McBain" in Sergio Leone's classic western "Once Upon A Time In The West."

Best of all, though, is a more mature Rita Hayworth bringing her considerable presence to bear as her character reenters the performing world while desperately trying to mend the rift between her and her daughter Toni. 
But just as the film caught fire early on during the shipwreck sequence, an equally spectacular finale gives us nothing less than a raging inferno which threatens to burn down the entire bigtop and everything in it on the very day of the new circus' debut, and again an otherwise unremarkable film is transformed into a thrilling nailbiter that had me on the edge of my seat. 
It's these two bookend scenes that make CIRCUS WORLD a must-see for John Wayne fans. But while everything in-between comes off as relatively pedestrian, it's still a pleasure to spend time with these actors and their likable characters.


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