Cast & Crew
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.
R. J. Lannan
Francis J. Scheid
James R. Webb
Trapeze was based on the novel, The Killing Frost, and filmed entirely in Paris and at the nearby Billancourt studios. Produced by Lancaster's own production company (Hecht-Hill-Lancaster), which liked to balance commercial ventures like Apache (1954) with more challenging projects like Marty (1955) and Sweet Smell of Success (1957), Trapeze fulfilled a lifetime dream of Lancaster's - to make a film about the circus. After all, Lancaster had once toured carnivals and nightclubs as an acrobatic act with his partner and childhood friend, Nick Cravat. They would later appear in two films together - The Flame and the Arrow (1950) and The Crimson Pirate (1952) - where they performed their own stunts.
In order to make the high-wire sequences in the film appear authentic, Lancaster hired Eddie Ward from the Ringling Brothers Circus as his technical consultant. Ward worked closely with Lollobrigida and Curtis in order to reduce their need for doubles in shots, but he also was used as a stand-in for Lancaster in some of the more dangerous stunts such as the famous triple flip which provides the dramatic centerpiece of Trapeze.
In Tony Curtis: The Autobiography, co-written with Barry Paris, the actor recalled that "some of the aerial stunts were so dangerous, even the doubles had doubles. But I did a lot of the ground tumbling, and some of the flying too. Burt and I did everything we could to make it easier in the cutting. I did a good chunk of the early bar work in the film, and that was really Burt and me walking on our hands. Robert Krasker, the photographer, was brilliant. As if there weren't enough problems, he was working with a whole new color system on the film....We'd start shooting at noon and work until 8:00 with no lunch break. Sometimes we'd start at 5:00 p.m. and work till 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. In one of the scenes I was waiting outside a bar for Burt to finish drinking and come out. [Director] Carol Reed insisted the street always be wet down so it would reflect the light and give a nightlike look."
Janet Leigh, who was married to Curtis at the time, was a frequent visitor to the set and recalled the filming in her autobiography, There Really Was a Hollywood: "Much of Trapeze was filmed at the Cirque d'Hiver, the permanent winter circus. My first impression was of the smell, but after a while, I didn't notice. The second was the cacophony of many languages. Dialogue directors were needed in English, French and Italian; assistant directors qualified in German and others as well. The circus families represented most of the countries of Europe, and the crew was also a mixture. The animals seemed fiercer than in American circuses. A new lion tamer was in training - the last one had recently been chewed to death! Yikes!"
Trapeze turned out to be a huge commercial hit for Lancaster's company, but some critics felt the film was a step down for Carol Reed, who had previously directed such acclaimed features as Odd Man Out (1947) and The Third Man (1949). One thing everyone seemed to agree on though was Gina Lollobrigida's immensely appealing performance as Lola. As Curtis recalled in his autobiography, "she was a charming woman, never any trouble, always on time. Carol Reed had a crush on her, and I think Gina encouraged it. If the director or the cameraman had a crush on you, you knew you were going to be all right in the movie. She flirted with all of us, which was consistent with her character in the film. But she had a lovely husband and family, and when the picture was over, and Janet and I went to Rome, Gina gave us a beautiful ancient stone carving, the head of a ram, which I still have and cherish."
Producer: James H. Hill
Director: Carol Reed
Screenplay: Liam O'Brien, James R. Webb
Production Design: Rino Mondellini
Cinematography: Robert Krasker
Costume Design: Veniero Colasanti
Film Editing: Bert Bates
Original Music: Malcolm Arnold
Cast: Burt Lancaster (Mike Ribble), Tony Curtis (Tino Orsini), Gina Lollobrigida (Lola), Katy Jurado (Rosa), Thomas Gomez (Bouglione), Minor Watson (John Ringling North), Johnny Puleo (Max the Dwarf), Gerard Landry (Chikki).
by Jeff Stafford
According to a November 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item, Ruth and Augustus Goetz were set to adapt Max Catto's novel, The Killing Frost, and Wolf Mankowitz is listed in a July 1955 news item as contributing additional dialogue, but the contribution of these writers to the final film has not been determined. An August 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item indicates that Montgomery Clift was under consideration for the role of "Tino Orsini." Trapeze marked the American film debuts of British director Carol Reed and Italian star Gina Lollobrigida. Tony Curtis was borrowed from Universal-International for the production. "Bouglione's" character was loosely based on the Cirque d'Hiver's real-life proprietor, Joseph Bouglione. Burt Lancaster began his career as a circus acrobat until an injury forced his retirement.
According to Hollywood Reporter and New York Times news items, the film was shot on location in Paris at the 103-year-old Cirque d'Hiver, in the village of Versailles, and with interiors shot at Billancourt Studios in Paris. Many news items noted that the ad campaign put on by Hecht-Lancaster and United Artists exceeded two millions dollars, making it the most expensive to date. Trapeze was the third top grossing film of 1956.
According to an item in the "Rambling Reporter" August 1956 Hollywood Reporter column, the stuntwoman for Gina Lollobrigida died after suffering a broken back from a forty-foot fall during the film's production. Modern sources add the following actors to the cast: Mme. Felco Cipriano, Betty Codreano, Gabrielle Fontan, Willy Krause, Sally Marlowe, Mylos, Michael Thomas, Edward Ward and Achille Zavatta.
A modern biography on Lancaster indicates that the script removed a homosexual twist in Catto's novel: Orsini is executed for murdering a woman who left him for "Ribble," but the real killer proves to be Ribble who wanted Orsini. In March 1957, Daily Variety indicated that writer Batia Jacobs filed a property right infringement suit against Hecht-Lancaster, UA, Catto and agent Ben Medford, claiming her manuscript entitled No Alternative was the basis for Catto's novel. The outcome of the suit has not been determined.
A July 1957 Variety item noted that screenwriter Daniel Fuchs filed suit for $250,000 and one-sixth of the profits of Trapeze, charging infringement of copyright, break of implied contract and violation of a confidential relationship. Fuchs indicated he wrote a story for Collier's magazine in 1940 entitled "The Daring Young Man" and in 1946 hired Harold Hecht as his agent. Fuchs claimed that, in 1952, he gave Hecht a screenplay adaptation of the story which, by that time, was entitled "Trapeze." The suit charged that in 1955, Trapeze's writers produced and "copied in substantial part" Fuchs's original story. A May 1959 Daily Variety article noted that an out-of-court settlement, "believed to be one of the largest of its kind in motion picture history," ended the two-year litigation. Although none of the parties disclosed the amount of the settlement, one contemporary source estimated it to be about $50,000.
Winner of the Best Actor Award (Lancaster) and Audience Award at the 1956 Berlin Film Festival.
Released in United States Summer July 1956
Released in United States Summer July 1956