The Big Circus
Poster of the movie The Big Circus.jpg
Directed byJoseph M. Newman
Screenplay byIrwin Allen
Charles Bennett
Irving Wallace
Story byIrwin Allen
Produced byIrwin Allen
StarringVictor Mature
Red Buttons
Rhonda Fleming
Kathryn Grant
Vincent Price
Peter Lorre
David Nelson
Gilbert Roland
CinematographyWinton Hoch
Edited byAdrienne Fazan
Music byPaul Sawtell
Bert Shefter
Distributed byAllied Artists Pictures
Release date
  • July 5, 1959 (1959-07-05)
Running time
108–109 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$2 million[1]
Box office$2.7 million (est. US/ Canada rentals)[2]

The Big Circus is a 1959 film starring Victor Mature as a circus owner struggling with financial trouble and a murderous unknown saboteur. It was produced and cowritten by Irwin Allen, later known for a series of big-budget disaster films.[3]


After splitting from his partnership with the Borman Brothers, Hank Whirling needs money to keep his Whirling Circus operational now that it must compete with the Bormans. He receives a bank loan but only on the condition he take along accountant Randy Sherman and publicist Helen Harrison to help the circus turn a profit.

Hank's top act is the Colino trapeze troupe, featuring Zach Colino. his wife Maria and newcomer Tommy Gordon. The circus also features ringmaster Hans and clown Skeeter. Unknown to Hank, his sister Jeannie wishes to be a trapeze artist and has been secretly training with the Colino act.

At a press party, a lion is let loose, terrifying the VIPs in attendance until Hank captures it with the help of Colino. Helen accuses him of staging the incident for publicity. They soon discover that the cage had been deliberately opened by an animal trainer named Slade, who is found, captured and eventually jailed.

When Skeeter is drunk and unable to perform his act, Randy substitutes, making numerous mistakes that actually made the act funnier.

Helen and Randy are infuriated by Whirling's refusal to accept their help. Hank believes that he is a good publicist and does not need Helen. After Randy fires 40 roustabouts and replaces them with a machine for raising the tent, Hank argues with him. The machine is sabotaged and sets a pile of hay on fire, but Hank prevents the tent from burning. Hank, Helen and Randy wonder if a saboteur, perhaps hired by the Bormans, is among the crew.

When the first section of the circus train derails, Maria Colino is killed, leaving her husband heartbroken and unable to perform. Attendance suffers because of recent foul weather, and the books are looking grim with the headline act unavailable.

Hank conceives a bold scheme. He will scrap the existing route, perform one show in Buffalo, and then slip into New York City three weeks before the Bormans' circus, stealing the audience from his rival. But he must create a major publicity splash. Helen proposes a stunt last performed in the 19th century: a walk across the gorge at Niagara Falls on a tightrope. As Zach has lost his confidence after his wife's death, Hank goads him into performing the stunt by calling him a coward. Zach plans to kill Hank after walking the tightrope, but after completing the walk, Zach realizes that Hank had been trying to help him and they reconcile.

With the bank about to foreclose on his circus, Hank approaches television star Steve Allen to seek publicity. Allen purchases the rights to broadcast the opening-night performance in New York for enough money to pay the show's line of credit and enable it to survive. Detectives come looking for Tommy and inform the show's management that he is an escaped lunatic. Hank realizes that Tommy is the saboteur.

Jeannie's debut with the Colino act nearly ends in disaster when Tommy deliberately misses catching her, but she manages to grasp a rope. While fleeing from Zach, Tommy falls to his death.

With the circus now profitable and the saboteur dead, Hank and Helen realize that they are in love. They kiss passionately.



Irwin Allen announced the film in 1957. He intended to produce and direct the film for Columbia and planned to have parts for 40 stars, in a similar manner to how he had produced and directed The Story of Mankind.[4] The project would eventually be undertaken by Allied Artists.

Filming began in January 1959 at the MGM studios. Allen was interested in making "an exciting colorful show—something the public can't see on television."[5]

Famed circus performer Barbette served on the film as a consultant.[6]

Comic-book adaption

A comic-book adaption, Dell Four Color #1036, was released in August 1959.[7][8]

See also


  1. ^ "Broidy: AA Looms in Black for '59". Variety. March 25, 1959. p. 7. Retrieved June 16, 2019 – via
  2. ^ "1959: Probable Domestic Take", Variety, 6 January 1960 p 34
  3. ^ MoMA
  4. ^ "SINATRA TO MAKE MOVIE WITH KANIN: Actor and Producer to Team on Latter's 'Devil May Care' --Welles Takes Film Role Wald Adds to Cast" Special to The New York Times.. New York Times 27 Aug 1957: 31
  5. ^ Pryor, Thomas M. (1959-01-11). "Hollywood Arena: 'Big Circus' Troupe Works to Equal Big Top's Authenticity and Color"". The New York Times. pp. X7.
  6. ^ "'Big Circus' Coming to Airport Drive-In". The Paris (Texas) News. 1959-11-22.
  7. ^ "Dell Four Color #1036". Grand Comics Database.
  8. ^ Dell Four Color #1036 at the Comic Book DB (archived from the original)