powered by AFI
In Paris, brash young American Tino Orsini seeks out once-famous trapeze performer Mike Ribble at the Bouglione Circus. Left with a permanent limp after falling while attempting the dangerous triple somersault years before, Mike, now a tent rigger, is a loner who drinks heavily. Tino acknowledges that he is the son of a renowned aerialist, and although impressed by Tino's youth and genuine skills, Mike nevertheless refuses to consider Tino's request to train him to perform the triple. When circus owner Bouglione assures Tino that he would be interested in an act featuring him and Mike, Tino follows Mike to a nearby bar that caters to circus performers. Mike continues to rebuff Tino, until convinced of the effectiveness of the act by his former lover, trick horse-rider Rosa, who has returned from three years performing abroad with her trainer husband Chikki. Admitting that Tino has the talent to perform the daring trapeze feat, Mike vows to stop drinking and train the young man full-time, acting as his partner and catcher. Over the next few weeks, Mike drills Tino mercilessly, insisting that only when the men can synchronize their movements perfectly will they be successful. Meanwhile, Bouglione continues auditioning various acts to build his show for the coming season, but refuses to sign Italian trampolinist Lola and her three acrobat partners. Watching Mike and Tino proceed to successful double flips and one failed attempt at the triple, Lola realizes they will be the new stars of the circus and convinces Bouglione that she can become part of their routine. The circus owner cautions her that the traditional Mike will never accept a woman in his act, but agrees to sign them if Lola succeeds. Lola calculatedly tells the acrobats only of Bouglione's dismissal and advises them to seek another job promised elsewhere. Promising to join the acrobats in a few days, Lola then sets about wooing Mike, but is angered by his insulting dismissal. Turning to Tino, Lola quickly romantically ensnares the young man, but proceeds cautiously so as not to upset the growing bond between him and Mike. Bouglione insists that Mike add Lola to the act, as her beauty will attract a wider audience. Although offended, Mike reluctantly agrees in order to maintain Bouglione's interest. On the show's opening night, the acrobats return and, angry with Lola for lying to them, threaten her. Mike intervenes, but tells Lola that after the evening's performance, she will be dropped from the act. During the show, Rosa's attempt to leap through a ring of fire on Chikki's champion horse results in a near accident, forcing the aerialists to go on early. Despite the presence of famed circus entrepreneur John Ringling North in the audience, Mike senses Tino is not yet ready and they hold back from attempting the triple. After the men descend the bars and receive an enthusiastic ovation, Lola continues performing tricks on a rope, infuriating Mike but stirring the audience. Ringling North welcomes Mike's return to performing and praises Tino, yet questions Lola's presence. Mike assures him they will perform the triple within the next three weeks of the show's tryout and Ringling North promises that if they do, he will sign Mike and Tino to his show in New York. Angered that Mike has excluded her, Lola seduces Tino, whose subsequent loss of concentration forces a confrontation between him and Mike. When Mike tells Tino that Lola uses men to advance her ambition, Tino castigates the older man for forcing him to choose between the woman he loves and his mentor. As Mike despairs of Tino's ever performing the triple, Rosa tells him that he is foolish not to realize that Lola really loves him. Startled, Mike decides to lure Lola away from Tino, in order to prove his allegation against her. Over the next few days, Mike is generous to Lola during rehearsals and Tino's performances improve markedly. Mike then makes romantic overtures to Lola, who responds, only to be genuinely distressed at the idea of hurting Tino. The day after a rendezvous with Mike, Lola meets with Bouglione, who is fearful that Ringling North will lure the trapeze act away. Lola declares she will convince Tino to sign a contract that would include Mike's old friend, Otto, as their new catcher. Lola then breaks the news to Mike, but their conversation is interrupted when Mike is seriously cuffed by an escaped lion. Moved by the depth of Lola's concern over his injury, Mike confesses to Lola that, to his own surprise, he truly loves her. In despair at how to tell Tino, the couple is startled when Tino, using information provided by Bouglione, finds them together in a small out-of-the-way hotel. Hurt when Tino repeats Mike's assertions against her, Lola flees and Tino lashes out at Mike, declaring their relationship has ended. That night, Mike learns that Ringling North is in the audience, but is stunned when Bouglione fires him and directs Otto to go on in his place. Mike's attempt to speak to both Lola and Tino proves futile, but Mike nevertheless sneaks out to the ring and takes the bar before Otto. Once the act commences, Tino is furious to find Mike in his usual catcher position and ignores Mike's admonitions to go for the triple. Hoping to stop the routine, Bouglione orders the net pulled and sends out a dance act. Mike continues to exhort Tino to fulfill his dream and after several moments of his encouragement, Tino prepares for the somersault. The circus performers and audience fall into a hush and Tino successfully makes the triple. Upon descending, the men are besieged by the press and Ringling North happily offers them a contract. Tino declares he wants the act to remain together and Mike praises his skill. In his dressing room, Mike tells Otto he must take his place in New York, as there is too much emotionally between him and Tino to go on together. Rosa watches sadly as Mike departs the circus grounds alone, but outside Lola joins him.