Billy Rose’s Jumbo (1962) – Movie Review

Jumbo is the story of the ups-and-downs of a travelling circus where life revolves around Jumbo, the circuses best act. I have always had a special place in my heart for circuses, though I couldn’t tell you why. Maybe its just the smell of adventure, the strange characters you see, or the jaw-clenching risks. This story is probably my favorite, although I have enjoyed others like Road Show (1941) and The Greatest Show On Earth (1952).

Doris Day plays the part of Kitty Wonder, Pop Wonder’s daughter, who has grown up in the circus and now manages it. She has spunk and she makes a good leader.

Stephen Boyd plays the elusive circus hand who strangely knows all the ropes. His close-lipped disposition lends him an attractive air. (I’ll admit it right here and now, he was a good looking dude!)

And on the comedy side, Jimmy Durante plays Pop Wonder and Martha Raye plays Lulu, stirring up a whirl of humor and hilarity.

Quick Synopsis

Kitty Wonder is a pro at handling the circus and its peculiar occupants but one thing she can’t handle is her well-meaning father’s gambling habits. Entertainers leave left and right and Kitty is at her wits’ end trying to make ends meet when help comes in the form of an unlikely, and mysterious, roustabout. Attracted to the man, Kitty lets her guard down but what she soon finds out might prove to be the ruin of the Wonder circus.

Full Review

Its a new morning and a new town for the Wonder circus, laying stakes and raising tents. Kitty is the daughter of Pop Wonder and all her life, the circus has been everything to her. Taking up where her father has gradually left off, she runs the place with authority and know-how. But even though she does a good job, they are unable to pay the bills. Some of this is due to slow business but a great deal is brought on by her father’s gambling.

The show opens that night, but Kitty already has creditors demanding payment. She asks them to wait until the show is over and promises to have the money. They give her one more chance.

Pop Wonder, anxious to avoid his daughters scrutiny, gets caught by Lulu, a friend of the family who is obviously stuck on Pop. Not ready to give her what she really wants, Pop beats around the bush.

Meanwhile, a clown brings Kitty news that some more of “the guys” have left and asks her if she will fill in for them in the ring that night. Kitty agrees, somewhat reluctantly, but feels even worse about losing men.

While in her dressing tent looking for a suitable costume, a young man by the name of Sam Rawlins, appears and asks for a job. He tells her his abilities, and she guess he’s just one of those who’ve hopped from one circus or job to the next, and she refuses to hire him.

That night, the show is going according to plan. Pop Wonder announces the acts with gusto and glamour, and Jumbo takes the show. There is a slight delay when he calls for The Great Mantino but soon the blind-folded tightrope walker appears. And yet, only when he finishes his terrifying act does Kitty recognize him as the roustabout looking for a job and not The Great Mantino. Despite her reservations, Pop hires him.

Afterward, some of the performers inform Kitty of their plans to leave unless they get paid. Kitty promises to pay them right off but when she reaches the cash box she finds that Pop has already been there. Racing to the nearest gambling joint, she hopes to catch him in time, but when she arrives he’s already lost the majority of it. With nothing to lose, Kitty tells Sam, who was there with Pop, that she’s going to get it back.

To her joy, she wins big but she only keeps what Pop came in with. And satisfied for the moment, Kitty returns with Sam and pays the performers off.

What Kitty doesn’t know is that Sam Rawlins is actually the son of their greatest competitor, John Noble of the Noble Circus. Noble’s plan is to cause the Wonder’s to be so indebted to him that he can buy their circus right out from under them. Clearly Sam doesn’t like his father’s plan, but he obeys his wishes.

With the encouragement of Lulu, Kitty tries to get to know Sam better but she is quickly frustrated by his standoffish attitude. Its obvious he’s attracted to her but for some reason unknown to her he won’t admit it.

Things only go from bad to worse when the show is disrupted by a thunderstorm that rips the tent apart and sends the audience scattering. Kitty and Lulu, as well as many other women, are stuck in the rigging since their ropes from their act are fouled. There is no way to lower them so Sam, now acting manager of the circus, instructs them to bring out the net. When the net breaks before Kitty can be saved he climbs the scaffolding and swings across on the trapeze. They are tossed a rope and a very shaky Kitty is taken to her tent alive and well.

After such a serious incident, Sam admits to Kitty he loves her and was terrified that he would lose her that night. Kitty is overjoyed that he loves her as much as she loves him and feels the whole world has changed for the better.

Being the son of her most fierce competitor would hardly go over well with Kitty, and being an accomplice to their possible downfall, he realizes he’s got to stop his father.

Unfortunately for him, his father is way ahead of him, and at the worst of times. While Pop and Lulu are preparing to exchange vows, the tent once again comes in on them, but this time its not due to the weather. At first they are furious and demanding to know what right he has to do this but at the mention of Sam, suddenly everything is clear to them. When they realize they have lost Jumbo as well, they feel utterly hopeless.

Clearly, Kitty is heartbroken by Sam’s betrayal. Her first thought is to despair, but the love of her father and almost-mother encourages her to not give up. The Wonder circus continues, though greatly reduced, as they travel around giving horseback riding lessons and putting on two-bit shows.

All the time, Sam has been trying to catch up to them, wanting to explain and hoping they’ll forgive him. When he finally does, it’s no surprise that they don’t want to hear what he has to say. He insists that he didn’t intend to hurt them, and that he tried to stop his father. Most of all, he still loves Kitty.

He has one last trump card and he plays it. Jumbo is back! Pop, Lulu, and Kitty are beyond happy. Sam reprimands them for giving up so easily, he tells them to fight, and that he wants to help them build the Wonder Circus into something better than before. 

And that’s what they do. With Jumbo to lean on, they build a brand new circus full of Stardust and Spangles.

The End

When Doris Day and her husband, Martin Melcher, decided to do this movie they were hoping it would be just the thing to get them back in the spotlight. Unfortunately, though the sets were big, the music well written, and parts well played, the movie didn’t make what they hoped it would. Because of it Doris Day lost parts in The Unsinkable Molly Brown and The Sound of Music. I can’t say I really understand why, since this movie is obviously one of my favourites, but I don’t think their trouble had anything to do with being a big time musical.

Something I just recently learned, but wasn’t surprised to find out, was that Stephen Boyd’s singing voice was dubbed. He does such a good job lip-synching that no one would know. I wonder if he could sing but they didn’t give him the chance. Strange as it seems, it happens sometimes.

The songs in this movie are to die for. I adore Doris Day’s music anyway, but Over and Over Again, My Romance, Little Girl Blue, and Stardust and Spangles are wonderfully orchestrated and performed, as well as the rest of the music. I find them on Grooveshark and listen to them when I want to sing. 🙂

I would definitely recommend you check it out for yourself, and be sure to tell me what you think. Until next time…

(Next review is about a movie with Dana Andrews and Jeanne Crain. This time its a fair!)

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