Former circus headliner Mike Ribble (Burt Lancaster) is left a cripple after his death-defying triple somersault ends in a fall. Handsome young acrobat Tino Orsini (Tony Curtis) arrives in Paris and finally convinces Ribble to teach him how to perform the dangerous stunt on the high trapeze. Orsini's enthusiasm tempts Ribble's taste for fame again but tension develops between the two men when Lola (Gina Lollobrigida), a voluptuous Italian tumbler, oozes into the act.
Review by Keith Lofthouse:
In 1932, Burt Lancaster began his working life in circuses earning three dollars a week driving tent stakes into the ground while learning tricks on the parallel bars and later up to $500 with the famed Ringling Brothers as an acrobat balancing at the end of a long pole. Lancaster always wanted to make a film about life under the Big Top and with his circus background was born to play the trapeze artist crippled in a fall while performing a perilous triple somersault.
Shot almost entirely at the famed Cirque d'Hiver in Paris, this tinsel and sawdust extravaganza is nonetheless an extreme example of a knighted director gone slumming... something rather tacky from the man who was Oscar nominated for The Fallen Idol (1948) and The Third Man (1949) before finally winning for Oliver! (1968). Trapeze was a smash hit in its day, but its success had more to do with the physical than the mental, for this was a rare chance to perve on men in tights and to drool over a bespangled La Lollo who possessed the two biggest things in pictures at the time.
The film has been tagged as "the only psychosexual circus movie" ever made but we suspect that no-one understood the undertones way back then. The homosexual theme, so explicit in Max Catto's much meatier book, is buried in the film until Gina thrusts her mammaries between the muscular heroes to insinuate a ménage á trois. Acrobat Lancaster tells acolyte Curtis how he liked it more when there were just the two of them: "One flies and one catches and nobody comes between." Except La Lollo. "You force me to choose," the Italian stallion warns Lancaster, "and I'll leave you."
This seething little love triangle brings tension to the trapeze where one's life depends on the trusty hands of the other. Drums roll, ballerinas dance, safety nets are removed. Who will fly; who will fall and will we see that elusive triple? What happens up there is quite unbelievable; the act of a desperate scriptwriter trapped in a tent with no way of writing his way out. Gina vamps while the others pant and there's not much more to it given that only a third of Catto's steamy novel survives. Lancaster performs most of his own stunts and he taught Curtis a few tricks, but of the handful of films Lancaster actually liked himself in, Trapeze isn't one of them. The aerial action, which seemed quite spectacular at the time, have since been eclipsed by Cirque de Soleil and CGI.
Published July 21, 2005
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TRAPEZE: DVD (G)
CAST: Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Gina Lollobrigida
DIRECTOR: Carol Reed
SCRIPT: Liam O'Brien (based on the novel The Killing Frost by Max Catto).
RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes
PRESENTATION: 16.9 widescreen. Dolby digital 2.0 Languages: English, Spanish
SPECIAL FEATURES: None
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: MGM
DVD RELEASE: July 13, 2005