Wednesday, December 04, 2013


Jay C. Flippen has brought his American carnival over to Germany and it's a roaring success. Among other sideshow denizens, there's a bearded lady, a strong (and mute) man named Groppo, and an acrobat (Lyle Bettger) who does a daring high dive into a small pool of water. One night, handsome barker Steve Cochran (at left) gets his wallet heisted by a lovely but starving young woman (Anne Baxter); he catches up with her and instead of calling the police, offers her a job helping him brush up on his German. Soon, Cochran and Baxter are in the middle of a lustful affair, though he continues to play the field. Bettger hires her to become his partner in the high-dive act, and on the night of her debut, asks her to marry him. Cochran is fine with that, assuming that he and Baxter will continue their affair. Baxter, horrified, says she'll kill him if he touches her again. She does marry Bettger, though Cochran keeps pestering her, but one night, a rung on the high-dive ladder breaks off and Bettger falls to his death. It turns out that the diver had saved a lot of money and Baxter gets it, so Cochran tries to wheedle some money out of her—and even though they sleep together, she won't give him the money so he steals it and leaves. Baxter becomes the star of the show and the plotpoints keep piling up: she starts a mild flirtation with George Nader, a Life magazine photographer who is doing a story on the carnival; she is hurt one night attempting to do Bettger's famous somersault dive; she decides to leave the show, but comes back when she finds out that Cochran has returned; finally, Cochran admits to tampering with the ladder to kill Bettger, leading to a wild climax in which Cochran tries to strangle Baxter but has to deal with Groppo the strong man chasing him all over the carnival.

There is plenty of plot here but few likeable characters. Our sympathies are generally with Baxter but she makes her own problems worse with her erratic behavior. Cochran is slimy but sexy, and the two do have some chemistry together. Bettger is a wet noodle and there's never any doubt that he won't be around for long. Nader's character is ill-defined and seems present only to give Baxter a helping hand while she recuperates from her diving injury. The immoral behavior of Baxter and Cochran (pictured at right) gives the movie a modern feel, and the two are the only appealing actors on screen, so your enjoyment of the movie will depend on how you react the two of them. I like Steve Cochran's dark looks and blustery manner, and when he's offscreen for big chunks of the last half, I lost interest. The writing is on the level of lines like, "Until I met you, I didn’t know how rotten I was!" and "Shut up and go to bed!" The movie looks strange, having been filmed in a color process which has degraded over the years (a digital restoration would help). The best scene in the movie, aside from when Cochran and Baxter are kissing or fighting, is when Bettger and Baxter climb the ladder on the night of her debut and he tells her that she'll never forget this moment—the view of the city as night falls is indeed lovely. [TCM]

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