Blu-ray Review: Trapeze Kino Lorber / 1956 / 107 min / Not rated / Sep 25, 2018

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A circus acrobat before an Injury forced him to find a new career, Burt Lancaster (Tough Guys) always dreamed of doing a film about the circus. That opportunity came with Trapeze, based on Max Catto’s novel The Killing Frost. Co-starring Tony Curtis (The Sweet Smell of Success), the film was produced through Lancaster’s own production company and marked the American film debut of Gina Lolabrigida (Woman of Straw). A box office success, Trapeze was among the three top earners of 1956.

A legendary trapeze artist, Mike Ribble (Lancaster) was only the sixth man to complete a triple somersault. No longer able to perform after a terrible accident, he works as a rigger for a Paris circus. Young Tino Orsini (Curtis) arrives looking for Ribble, convinced that with his idols help, Tino can be the next man to accomplish the triple somersault. Tino shows Mike everything he learned watching him under the big top. Mike isn’t interested. While the kid clearly has potential, he also reminds him of his own failures. A stubborn fellow, Mike is content to limp around on a cane and sit around at the local bar reliving past glories. Eventually, a former flame (Katy Jurado, High Noon) convinces Mike to get back in the air, catching Tino.

The two men work tirelessly to perfect their routine. To succeed, they must be perfectly in sync and trust each other completely. If they don’t get everything just right, the results could be disastrous. The camera angles during the training montage are impressive, capturing every flip, arc, and twist. Into the middle of this steps Lola (Lolabrigida), a woman who will do just about anything to be a star. It takes about thirty seconds to figure out she will be at the center of a love triangle between Mike and Tino.

While the love triangle is supposed to be central to the story, it drags the film down. The most enthralling scenes take place under the big top. Outside of it, Curtis and Lolabrigida’s performances are stagey and over-the-top. Strangely, Curtis’ knack for comedy is totally ignored. Not surprisingly, Trapeze is Burt Lancaster’s film. An undeniable screen presence, his co-stars struggle to keep up with him dramatically. His face often shows sadness for Tino, embroiled in a feigned affair, and for himself, in love with a woman who is tearing his life apart with her ruthless ambition.

Trapeze could be forgotten as just another in a long line of melodramas, but the scenes in the tent test the trust between the two men. The best moments when they take to the ropes for the somersault. As they flip from incredible heights, it could be glory for them, it could be disaster. It’s almost impossible to look away. As he demonstrated with Odd Man Out, The Third Man and others, director Carol Reed had an ability to create a sense of excitement with camera angles and does so here.  It has also been said that Lancaster did most of his own stunts for the film. This is believable given his past as an acrobat and the incredible shape his body was in.

Presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Kino Lorber’s 1080p transfer offers some speckles, but nothing that affected the overall viewing experience. The Cinemascope shot colors do look a bit muted. Despite these issues, this transfer is much better than any DVD I’ve seen, and barring a full restoration, this is probably as good as this film will ever look.

The DTS-HD Master Audio track provides a fulfilling experience with a nice amount of bass. The score by Malcolm Arnold (The Inn of the Sixth Happiness) is appropriately full, and dialogue is clean, clear and concise throughout. English subtitles are included.

The following extras are available:

  • Audio Commentary with Film Historian Kat Ellinger
  • Original Theatrical Trailer (HD, 3:14)

Movie title: Trapeze (1956)

Director(s): Carol Reed

Actor(s): Burt Lancaster , Tony Curtis , Gina Lollobrigida, Katy Jurado, Thomas Gomez , Minor Watson

Genre: Drama

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3.3