Sunday, March 01, 2009


Big city DA Adolphe Menjou tries to get some time away from a current crime wave by taking a vacation with his secretary (Ruthelma Stevens) out in rural small-town New York state (specifically in the town of Gilead, where he hopes to find some balm), only to get embroiled in the happenings of a traveling circus. Star trapeze artist Greta Nissen is on the outs with her husband (Dwight Frye) and having an affair with Donald Cook, her co-featured acrobat (pictured, and not, despite the get up, the queen of the title). Written death threats are being sent to several troupe members, and a group of African cannibals who are part of the side show are making people nervous ever since one of them seemingly vanished between the last town and Gilead. Of course, thanks to the title, we know that Nissen will bite the dust eventually, but it takes until the last 15 minutes for it to happen. Because of an early plot point in which Menjou is seen teaching his secretary how to lip read, we know that skill will come in handy later on. And since neurotic Frye is in the film, we know he's a bad guy, or at least a crazy guy. Most of this hour-long thriller is pretty predictable, but it's still fun to watch, thanks not only to good performances all around--even the ever-smarmy Cook gets to display more range than usual, though the ever-squirrely Frye doesn't--but also to deliberate pacing which allows a decent amount of attention to character. The climactic trapeze show is tense and well-shot. Menjou and Stevens have a good chemistry; they might be on-the-sly lovers, or they might be Perry Mason-Della Street friends; it was never quite clear to me. This is the second film in which they played these characters, and it's a shame more weren't made. [TCM]

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