Billy Rose’s Jumbo
Directed by Charles Walters
Written by Sidney Shelton; book by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur
It seems it is a challenge to make a good circus movie. This one does not break the genre’s losing streak.
Chronic gambler “Pop” Wonder (Jimmy Durante) owns a circus whose star attraction is the elephant Jumbo. His show-rider daughter Kitty (Doris Day) has to deal with the many bill collectors hounding the production.
One day Sam Rawlins (Stephen Boyd) shows up looking for work. It turns out he is a talented aerialist and Sam and Kitty quickly fall in love. Can the relationship work after Sam’s connection to a rival circus owner is revealed? With Martha Rae as Pop’s long-suffering fiancee.
One of the problems with circus movies is the need to show circus acts while at the same time including some kind of plot. This one also adds in a bunch of Rogers and Hart ballads to get through. All the elements are just OK and do not make a satisfying or coherent whole. Still, this is another movie I saw as a child. We had the soundtrack album on frequent rotation at our house. So it retains a little bit of magic for me.
Jumbo was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment.