Here’s one of the scarcer Elia Kazan films. This story of oppression and flight from Communist Czechoslovakia fell out of fashion post-McCarthy era. It’s actually mostly well done.
The Chernik family owned and operated a traveling circus for generations. Now the circus belongs to the People but Karol Chernik (Fredrik Marsh) still manages the business and acts as a clown. He is married to much-younger bad girl Zarna (Gloria Grahame) and has a beloved daughter from his former marriage, Tereza (Terry Moore). Chernik is in trouble with the State for such things as not changing his act with an unfunny propaganda bit and for harboring an aged performer who fancies herself a French duchess.
Chernik is also worried that he is harboring a spy. He suspects this may be Joe (Cameron Mitchell), a crew member that Terry is sweet on.
One day, he is visited by the operator of a rival circus. The two managers have long been enemies but they are both circus people and understand each other. The man tells Chernik that the authorities suspect he has escape plans. Chernik decides to put his plan into action immediately (this development was pretty abrupt I thought), Once things get rolling, his true friends and enemies reveal themselves in short order. The audacious plan involves simply marching over the border with elephants in tow. With Adolphe Menjou as a secret service man.
This may be a unique chance to see March play the clown! Not surprisingly, he’s good at it. The performances and filmmaking are strong. The script is riddled with holes and takes every opportunity to throw in a little mild propaganda. I enjoyed it, though, more than I had expected to.