Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Trapeze (1956)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Trapeze (1956)

In British director Carol Reed's Cinemascopic, extravagant romantic melodrama (with a buried homosexual theme) - a smash hit at the time:

  • the opening pre-credits sequence: circus trapeze performer Mike Ribble (Burt Lancaster) fell performing a death-defying triple somersault on the flying trapeze high bar, resulting in a career-changing, crippling leg injury and forcing him to become a net rigger instead - he was a semi-retired, cynical loner limping around with a cane and possessing a heavy drinking habit; he later commiserated about how he was the last one, the sixth "legend in the world" to attempt a triple: "There'll never be a seventh. When circus was real, flying was a religion. Now whaddya got? Pink lights, and ballet girls, blue sawdust. A lot of hoopla"
  • the circus environment in Paris at Cirque Bouglione run by conniving, greedy circus owner Bouglione (Thomas Gomez), who was only interested in crowd-pleasing acts
  • the entrance of brash Brooklynite American Tino Orsini (Tony Curtis), a talented aspiring flier who arrived to entice Mike to return to the trapeze act as his trainer and catcher; Tino attempted to impress Mike with an impromptu acrobatic display on the Parisian streets (swinging on bars, performing cartwheels and a flip); afterwards, both walked away 'on their hands'
  • the amazing, fluid and uninterrupted takes during the choreography of dangerous trapeze stunts (performed fairly seamlessly by stunt doubles) - Mike and Tino's elusive goal was to perform the very difficult triple somersault and become a headlining duo: "Ribble and Orsini"
  • the scheming of overly-ambitious and driven, curvaceous Italian trampolinist acrobat Lola (Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida in her American film debut) to abandon and desert her male circus tumbling team and join Mike and Tino as a high-wire trio; she auditioned with a new, low-cut, body-hugging black and white costume, but Mike (although he tried to seduce her with brandy) ended up unconvinced to allow her to join them: "But I am afraid. That's why I'm stickin' to a two act"
  • the scenes of Mike's adamant demands that a female would only destroy the connection between the catcher and flier, and ruin their "pure trapeze act" - he yelled at Tino for promoting Lola: ("What's she doing up there?...Get her down...There's no room for more than two of us up there. Now get her down"); he also tried to convince Bouglione to not change the two-person act just for money's sake: ("She'll ruin the act, that's all...Improved? Improved by a dame? I'm tryin' to give you a pure trapeze act...I'm offering you something unique in circus history - the greatest act since Leotard invented trapeze here in this circus 100 years ago. And you talk to me about box office and spangles...We hardly got the time. We take her on, we lose the triple opening night...You think they'll pay more to see her in spangles than they want to see a triple. Well, you're wrong!")
  • Mike's developing anger toward Tino when he realized how manipulative Lola had become: "Now we've lost the triple opening night...Listen, you idiot. She gave me the treatment before she ever got around to you. Why do you think I always wanted a two act? Because one flies and one catches, and no one comes between"
  • the further maneuverings of the sexy and flirtatious Lola, who was forced to seduce Tino to get her way into the spotlight within their act: (Lola: "Oh, Tino. He saw it from the start. Right from the start, he saw he might lose the only life he has. The life you give him. It frightens me to think what he could do to us, Tino. You are the flier. You make the act. You must make the decisions")
  • the growth of tensions between Lola and Mike: "As soon as this engagement finishes, Lola, you're out. Do you understand? Tino and me work alone, just as we planned...No more tricks, Lola, you're out!...For your own sake, Lola, get out, or one night, these hands won't be there to catch you"
  • the resulting very complex love triangle between Lola, Tino, and Mike, culminating in serious fall-out between Tino and Mike: "She's not interested in you, me or the act. Just Lola, that's all. The more you give her, the more she'll want. She's ruined good acts before that way and she'll...I can see you forgetting to check the rigging, missing parades. Next thing you know, you'll be ducking practice. In the end, you'll think about her in the middle of a triple and lose it....Tino, Tino, listen to me. You're the only man living who can get the triple. But her, Tino. Anybody can get her. Can't you understand? Anybody can get her!"; Tino shot back, affirming his love for Lola: "Shut up! I'll work with ya, Mike. I'll work for the triple until my hands burn off. But you force me to choose and I'll leave you. I want Lola most of all, because I love her. And she loves me"
  • the striking image of Mike, who had also fallen in love with Lola, delivering a slow-motion kiss to her while both were swinging high above the ground - and upside-down
  • the trio's climactic return to the circus show where Mike dared and challenged Tino to perform the triple (to impress famed circus entrepreneur from NY John Ringling North (Minor Watson) in the audience) - in the thrilling scene, Tino performed the stunt without a net
  • in the downbeat closing, Tino was urged to take North's offered contract in NY (with new partner Otto (Jean-Pierre Kerien), Mike's ex-catcher), while Lola ran after Mike and joined him as he limped away from the circus


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