Tino Orsini has learned the trapeze from his father but he travels to Europe to seek out Mike Ribble, one of the few men who has managed to complete a triple somersault. Ribble no longer works the trapeze and now walks with a cane after a nasty fall left him a cripple. Orsini convinces him to act as his catcher and all is well until the gold digging Lola, who'll do just about anything to become part of a major circus act, arrives on the scene. Her presence creates friction between the two men and puts in doubt whether Tino will ever accomplish the elusive triple.
Burt Lancaster ... Mike Ribble
Tony Curtis ... Tino Orsini
Gina Lollobrigida ... Lola
Katy Jurado ... Rosa
Thomas Gomez ... Bouglione
Johnny Puleo ... Max (dwarf) (as John Puleo)
Minor Watson ... John Ringling North
Gérard Landry ... Chikki (as Gerard Landry)
Jean-Pierre Kérien ... Otto (as Jean-Pierre Kerien)
Sid James ... Snake Charmer (as Sidney James)
Gimma Boys ... Circus family children
Los Arriolas ... Specialty Act
Gamil Ratib ... Stefan
Pierre Tabard ... Paul
Actually I think Trapeze is a fairly decent depiction of a 1950s European flyer's act. And I understand that Mr. Lancaster was an acrobat whose career was ended due to injury prior to his becoming an actor. So this may have enabled him to have a good feel for his role.
But I'm also a bit biased. I've been to a couple of circuses in Paris, which seemed to mirror the film's atmosphere and I actually met the actors who starred in this film.
In 1955 I was living on an American military base near Paris where Trapeze was being filmed. The USO hosted a gathering on base and Tony Curtis and Gina Lollabrigida appeared to promote the film and sign autographs. My older sisters got their photos taken with Mr. Curtis.
So naturally, whenever I catch this film on late night cable, I see it from a nostalgic point of view.
There were not many films made about the circus, but this one tops them all by far. Much better than DeMille's melodramatic soap opera which won an Oscar for Demille by default.
Getting back to Trapeze, this film combines a wonderful story with beautiful acting from the stars and supporting cast, and the photography of the aerial stunts will leave you felling as though you attended the circus in person. Lancaster who at one time actually performed in a circus act, gives a towering performance and Curtis and Lollabridgida are terrific as well. This is easily the gorgeous Gina'a best dramatic role, and we see that she was a very much underrated performer in her time.
Thomas Gomez and Katy Jurado are wonderful in support as are all the lesser players. This is a look at the real circus from inside. It's about the longings about real stars and the ways they attempt to achieve and hold on to that elusive stardom.
This film does not contain a dull moment and has a fantastic climax that will keep you glued, and on the edge of your seat as if you were sitting ringside.
It is somewhat a shame that this great film is not well known at this time and of course would never be mentioned on any top 100 or even 1,000 list, but long after Casablanca and Citizen Cane have been relegated to their rightful places in history, this film and many others will be truly recognized for the masterpieces that they are.
In Trapeze Burt Lancaster finally realized an ambition to return to his roots as a circus acrobat and do a film under the big top. When he and Tony Curtis and Gina Lollobrigida are soaring through the air, Trapeze is a thing of beauty. Unfortunately on the ground it's firmly fixed to mediocrity with a very melodramatic triangle subplot.
Lancaster plays a once promising aerial artist who perfected the triple somersault in the air. But doing it once too often shattered his career along with his leg. Lancaster now works as a rigger for Thomas Gomez's circus.
But one day when young Tony Curtis, a would be Trapeze artist comes to the circus seeking out Lancaster, Burt recognizes the talent that is there after some initial misgivings. He agrees to become Curtis's catcher and teach him the tricks of Trapeze trade.
What complicates things is goldigging Gina Lollobrigida a jack of all the circus trades who desperately wants to get to America. She's an old girl friend of Lancaster, but sees in Curtis her meal ticket. He's after all the one with the talent and the young reflexes. Lancaster's wise to her, but she does get the old hormones going in Burt.
Seeing Lancaster doing his own trapeze stunts is quite a marvel, but in fact it was his old trade. I'm sure being the producer of Trapeze helped because if this had been a studio production the bean counters in the front office would have been going out of their minds at seeing their big star risking life and limb.
Katy Jurado has a nice if somewhat undefined role as a bareback rider who also has an old time yen for Burt. Thomas Gomez is quite the schemer as the owner who naturally wants to keep the act intact and working for him and not going to a bigger show. That bigger show is Ringling Brothers,Barnum&Bailey circus in America and Minor Watson plays the real life John Ringling North.
Unfortunately for Trapeze, Cecil B. DeMille's The Greatest Show On Earth set an impossible standard for circus pictures. Maybe if it had concentrated on the aerial and left the romance alone, Trapeze would be better thought of today.
Next year Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis teamed for Sweet Smell of Success. Now that's the film the two will be better remembered by far.
* Sally Marlowe was cast as Gina Lollobrigida's stunt double until Marlowe broke her nose on set. Willy Krause, a close personal friend of Burt Lancaster, was asked to fill in as Ms. Lollobrigida's stunt double. He accepted the role.