Saturday, July 02, 2011

Man on a Tightrope

Nuorallatanssija [Finnish release title 1953]. US © 1953 Twentieth Century Fox. D: Elia Kazan. T. it.: Salto mortale; Based on: International Incident di Neil Paterson; SC: Robert E. Sherwood; DP: Georg Krause; ED: Dorothy Spencer; PD: Hans Kuhnert, Theo Zwirsky; M: Franz Waxman; S: Carl Becker, Roger Heman Sr., Martin Müller, Karl Becker, Roger Heman; Cast: Fredric March (Karel Cernik), Terry Moore (Tereza Cernik), Gloria Grahame (Zama Cernik), Cameron Mitchell (Joe Vosdek), Adolphe Menjou (Fesker), Robert Beatty (Barovik), Alexander D’Arcy (Rudolph), Richard Boone (Krofta), Pat Henning (Konradin), Paul Hartman (Jaremir), John Dehner (il capo), Gert Fröbe; P: Robert L. Jacks per 20th Century Fox; Pri. pro.: 29 giugno 1953. 35 mm. 105’. From: 20th Century Fox. Saturday, 2 July 2011 at 14.30, Cinema Arlecchino (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato). Presenta lo storica Foster Hirsch.

Catalogue: "Man on a Tightrope recounts the story of a third-rate Czech circus and of the political interference that finally prompts its manager, Karel Cernik (Fredrich March), to take the company on a dash to cross into the American zone of Germany. The key relationships are those between Cernik and his second wife Zama (Gloria Grahame), and his daughter Teresa and a young man who also wants to reach West Germany to search for his father. These relationships are never very convincing, and were further weakened when Zanuck subsequently cut twenty minutes from the early part of the picture. Kazan does try to stress the individuality, eccentricity and cosmopolitanism of the itinerant performers while the use of a real circus – the circus Brumbach – contributes a reasonable sense of surface realism. (…) Zanuck’s fear of heaving the film branded by critics as political or historical, assumed to be box office poison in 1953, led to it lacking any significant context relating to the politics of Soviet-occupied Czechoslovakia. More than ever, Zanuck argued, people are “going to the theatre to escape lectures, propaganda, politics and the constant talk-talk-talk which they get on TV and the radio”. (…) A rare allusion to the political context comes with Cernik’s reference to both Nazi and Soviet occupations and to Jan Masaryk and Edvard Beneš, symbols of the lost tradition of Czech democracy." (Brian Neve: Elia Kazan. The Cinema of an American Outsider, I.B. Tauris, London 2009).

Foster Hirsch in his introduction told that the youthful Hollywood veteran Terry Moore now is the only survivor of the main cast and crew. The interrogation reminded Kazan of his own experiences in front of the HUAC. For Kazan, two performances were especially strong: Fredric March (whom he saved from the black list) and Adolphe Menjou (who Kazan stated was not a Fascist). Foster Hirsch emphasized that this is a rare chance to see an unknown and uncared for film.

There is an interesting affinity between the two circus films Man on a Tightrope and Ingmar Bergman's Gycklarnas afton ([The Night of the Clowns] / Sawdust and Tinsel, also 1953): the humiliating relationship between the ageing Fredric March / Åke Grönberg and his red-blooded young wife Gloria Grahame / mistress Harriet Andersson. À propos: both Kazan and Bergman made a Cold War film on Eastern Europe. Bergman's contribution, Sånt händer inte här [These Things Don't Happen Here, 1950], is even less seen.

Man on a Tightrope takes place in Czechoslovakia in 1952. The account of Stalinist oppression feels convincing. There is a realistic approach that borders on the documentary on the daily life of a travelling circus. The film was shot on location on the Bavarian side. There are moments on circus life that have a Fellinesque-Kusturican aspect. Thanks to a brilliant plan the circus manages to pass through the Iron Curtain. Another moment of liberation is Zama and Rudolph's clandestine swim in the river (Moldau?). This is not a piece of crude propaganda, and as Foster Hirsch states, there is a special personal charge in the scenes where the circus director is interrogated by the Stalinist security police. The movie is anti-glamorous, and the general feeling is  more of a profound disappointment and disgust than liberation.

The print was fine.

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