BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
Blu-ray, DVD; 1956; Not Rated; streaming via Amazon Video/Prime
Best extra: Commentary by Film Historian Kat Ellinger
BURT LANCASTER, Tony Curtis and Gina Lollobrigida star in a film set and mostly filmed in the Cirque d’Hiver in Paris directed by Oscar winner (“Oliver!”) Carol Reed.
Lancaster plays trapeze artist Mike Ribble, crippled after a fall trying to execute the perfect triple somersault. As a disabled man, he can only find work as a rigger, setting up the gear for others to perform. Tino Orsini (Curtis) tracks him down. This young flyer has learned all he can about the trapeze from his circus family. Ribble is the only one who can teach him more, and he’s determined to convince him to help. Ribble is eventually won over by the young man’s talent and determination.
Pushing into the middle of this is Lola (Lollobrigida), equally determined to succeed at any cost. Also talented, she uses beauty and seduction to get ahead. Soon she’s playing Ribble against Orsini and vice versa to become a star with them. Her schemes become more intense when John Ringling North (Minor Watson), director of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in America, appears, scouting for acts. North remembers Ribble when he was a star and is very interested in signing the new act.
There’s a lot that works for “Trapeze.” Lancaster, a former circus acrobat, and Curtis perform a lot of their own stunts. The Cirque d’Hiver setting provides authenticity and color. Circus performers show off their talents in the background; atmosphere is decidedly gritty. Lancaster and Curtis were good friends before the film, and their chemistry is excellent. In spite of her cutthroat schemes, Lollobrigida, in her American film debut, eventually makes her bad girl sympathetic.
It’s the 1080p transfer (2.35:1 ratio) that disappoints. It seems the original negative has been destroyed or gone missing. This recent “Trapeze” from Kino Lorber is possibly the best it’s looked since its release in 1956. However, color and detail fluctuate, while dirt, scratches and burns popup throughout. Shot long before CGI, some close-ups of the artists on the trapeze look fake. It can be distracting. Audio is delivered through a Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack. Dialogue is clear, and the dramatic score by Malcolm Arnold (“The Bridge on the River Kwai”) delivers an emotional impact.
The one bonus feature is a commentary by Film Historian Kat Ellinger. It’s a bit scattershot and repetitive, but the facts are interesting. She gives a good history of the Lancaster-Curtis friendship and why they bonded so well. Lollobrigida gave one of her finest performances in “Trapeze,” but managed to get on the bad side of Curtis because she suggested they cut his trademark hair. The style looks good and actually works in the part, helping distinguish Curtis from the pretty boy roles he became known for in “The Vikings,” “Spartacus,” and “Some Like It Hot.” At the time, those black curls were something of an American icon. In his autobiography, Curtis says he went on to become friends with the Italian actress, once described as “the most beautiful woman in the world.”
Ellinger goes into detail about the book that formed the basis of the film. “The Killing Frost” by Max Catto opens with Orsini’s execution for the murder of his lover, Lola. The irony is Ribble was the killer. He was in love with Orsini himself, and couldn’t deal with their relationship. The homosexual plotline was cut from “Trapeze,” which arrives at a much different yet believable conclusion.
The film was a great success upon its release, although critics felt it was beneath Reed’s talents; he was known for directing “The Third Man.” Bottom line, “Trapeze” is a unique, entertaining film. Lancaster and Curtis fans should particularly enjoy it.
— Kay Reynolds