Best appreciated as the swan song of the MGM musical, this cotton-candy adaptation securely places a classic Rogers and Hart score into the capable hands of veteran masters, director, Chuck Walters, and second-unit director, Busby Berkeley. Traveling America's hinterlands at the turn of the century, the Wonder circus is a small-time big top outfit that just about breaks even. In fact, it would turn a profit if its owner, Pop Wonder (Jimmy Durante), didn't gamble with the box office receipts. When his feisty daughter Kitty (Doris Day) isn't fending off creditors, she's pampering their star attraction, Jumbo, the Elephant. Kitty, Pop, and Lulu (Martha Raye) — Pop's fiancee of 14 years — bring sawdust, spangles and dreams to one-horse towns. Operating for more mercenary motives, Pop's rival, John Noble (Dean Jagger), starts hiring away the Wonder Circus's unpaid performers. He ultimately hopes to purchase Pop's top-billed pachyderm for his slick three-ring extravaganza. To that nefarious end, Noble sends his son, Sam Rawlins (Stephen Boyd), to pose as a roustabout. Sam makes himself indispensable on the midway while secretly buying up Pop's debts; what Sam never counted on was falling for Kitty. Though she isn't easily impressed, the standoffish Wonder gal eventually reciprocates. When a thunderstorm uproots the tent rigging, Sam rescues Kitty from her aerial act, but Sam can confess his treachery, Noble shows up and seizes the show's assets, including Jumbo. Heartbroken, Pop, Lulu, and Kitty stitch together a traveling show and perform as vagabonds. Sam, desperate for a second chance, offers to transform their wandering act into a bona fide mini-circus, but it may be too late for him to redeem himself in their eyes. Some critics missed the point of this lavish family musical that double teamed circus acts (coordinated by the aging Berkeley), with singing and dancing. Though the plot is slim and Boyd's lip-synching is awkward, the film features stunning production numbers like the "Over and Over" rehearsal sequence and the last big screen musical appearances of Day, Raye and Durante, who starred in Billy Rose's original 1935 stage production. Though JUMBO was a box office disappointment, the score received an Oscar nomination, and includes the tunes "Circus on Parade," "Why Can't I," "This Can't Be Love," "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World," "My Romance," "Little Girl Blue," "What is a Circus," "Sawdust, Spangles and Dreams."
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Best appreciated as the swan song of the MGM musical, this cotton-candy adaptation securely places a classic Rogers and Hart score into the capable hands of veteran masters, director, Chuck Walters, and second-unit director, Busby Berkeley. Traveling Ameri… (more)