One year prior to Irwin Allen’s foray into the Sci-Fi/Fantasy and special effects genre, he produced a wonderful movie called The Big Circus…released in 1959, it had all the marking’s of an “IRWIN ALLEN PRODUCTION” action & spectacle, vivid production values and big scope!
Irwin was sort of a modern day Cecil B. Demille a real showman, and what better way to show this than “The Big Circus” after all the approach was similar in almost all his productions, an all-star cast, lots of excitement, sabotages, tragedy, and people “rising to the occasion”.
Big Circus marked Irwin’s first association with costume designer Paul Zastupnevich, who’s loyalty would last for over thirty years!
The movie was based on a screenplay by Irwin & Charles Bennett, who also collaborated on the “Voyage” ’61 movie. A great all-star cast with Victor Mature as “Hank” Whirling and sister Kathryn Grant – “Jeanne” the secretary, Rhonda Fleming as the press agent, and the great Peter Lorre as the clown.
The story opens with an introduction to Red Button’s Mr. Sherman character sent to over see the budget. Things get under way, but there’s a little problem, apparently Whirling has a saboteur in his employ, and for six years at that!
Enter “Bormon”, Whirling’s arch rival, who wants to be the only game in town!
He offers to buy out Whirling…but he certainly won’t hear of it! So, “Tommy” played by David Nelson the unknown sabatour on board the train, currently on tour cross the country, and connected with Bormon “arranges” a train wreck leaving Whirling’s circus to travel by elephant, horseback and foot but, the show must go on!
Facing bankruptcy, Hank comes up with the idea of having Zach Colino played by Gilbert Roland to walk the tight rope over Niagara Falls – thats it, that will put us back on the map! And it does…he makes it!
And so the troop is invited on “The Steve Allen Show,” if he can’t bring the people to the circus, why not bring the circus to the people. Hank Whirling is paid $200,000 from United Broadcasting for the performance, bringing back the Whirling Circus stronger than ever!
This movie really conveys the spirit of most of Irwin Allen’s work. Grandeur, people in jeopardy, and then rising to the occasion bigger, better, and stronger than ever. Irwin’s theme seemed constant through the Sci-Fi/Fantasy years-and through the “Disaster years”.
The video is quite rare, and hard to find, but if you come across a copy and you haven’t seen it, definitely check it out! you’ll be quite amazed at all the familiar names and themes.