When you go to a circus, there's something magical about watching people somersault and jump through hoops stacked high. It's even more exciting to see a man jump from one unicycle to another. And it's all made better when there are animals involved. The lions, tigers, horses and even a pair of trained pigs had my son giddy from ear to ear.
Despite some cheesy story elements (including a magic telescope and a journey through space) this movie has the right vibe to make you feel like you're at the circus. Henry Hathaway directs these sequences with a clear affection for the art, and the energetic score by Dimitri Tiomkin really bolsters the atmosphere.
The story is a bit thin, but it's easy to get caught up in the thrill of watching circus acts that have become world famous, and for whom death is always just inches away. The movie also shows you the low points of circus life, when a proprietor beset with problems, well played by a young John Wayne, has to let his show go for financial reasons.
CIRCUS WORLD is a fascinating doc about the end of a storied part of American business, and how hard it is for many of the performers to give up their lifestyle, family and friends in a single swoop. It's also an interesting look at what it takes to keep a troupe of entertainers motivated and happy. And it's a good idea to bring some snacks, because you'll be hungry by the time the credits roll.