The Circus Queen Murder Full Movie Free Download
Suave, lip-reading DA Thatcher Colt plans to get away from the big city for a while. So he and his secretary, Miss Kelly hop on a train for an Upstate NY town called Gilead. They expect a calm oasis, but when a small time circus rolls into town they soon find
themselves caught up in a sordid tale of marital infidelity, murder, cruelty to animals, and cannibalism. Vacationing Police Commissioner Thatcher Colt (Adolph Menjou) slips out of News York City and picks a small New York state town for his rest and recreation
(with Miss Kelly (Ruthelma Stevens) his secretary, in case he needs someone to take a note or make coffee. He soon becomes involved in murder and mayhem when a travelling circus comes to town and the circus queen, Josie La Tour (Greta Nissen) slips from a
trapeze-perch when someone shoots a poisoned arrow in her back. Who plugged Josie La Tour? Eliminate Miss Kelly only. Adolphe Menjou is a weary Police Commissioner on vacation in upstate New York. He gets entangled in a nearly bankrupt circus, and endeavors
(unsuccessfully) to prevent THE CIRCUS QUEEN MURDER.
This crisply directed and well-acted little drama is perhaps the best test of the auteur theory one could devise. Director Neill is best known as director of most of the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies, and the fantastic film noir Black Angel. If you ever catch his other Columbias on TCM, one notices that his movies have a distinct visual flair, and always seem to be moving on to the next plot point.
In this one, Neill has a real problem -- and it is one he probably suffered with a lot. The story (as opposed to the script, which has a decent batch of the usual 30s wise talking) is terrible. The "mystery" is no mystery -- the killer is well known before the murder actually happens and there are only one or two "deductions". The murder itself happens far too late in movie (and is so telegraphed by the title of the movie, that it does not come as any surprise). Menjou, by the operations of the plot, seems ineffectual, rather than the clever unraveler of mysteries. And, courtesy of the story, there are long patches of film where there really is nothing going on.
So what's an auteur to do? Well, at the beginning of the film, we get a montage of gangster action, with newspaper headlines. We get atmospheric rain when the circus wagon comes into town. We get circus atmosphere and more circus atmosphere. We get chilling cries of fearsome circus animals (even though those animals have very little to do with anything going on on the screen.) We also get Adolphe Menjou, acting the part of an elegant but burnt out policeman, with so much grace and elan that we do not notice that he really isn't doing much of anything. We also get lots of Dwight Frye (who thinks Renfield is a model for any character he might play) chewing the scenery in the sort of role Peter Lorre would have got (and actually acted) had the film been made 7 or 8 years later. Finally, we get lots of dangerous trapeze action. And, at last, we have the final confrontation between policeman and murderer, and the witty closing line (to which Menjou gives the perfect reading).
In other words, we end up with an entertaining movie but an unstisfying one. It probably played well on the top half of a Columbia double feature, but a little time and effort by the scenario writer could have made this one great, as opposed to an interesting time-passer. The message here is that 30s film was always a collaborative medium and failure in one aspect of the production was really difficult to salvage through brilliance in one of the other ends.
Oh -- and what's the spoiler? Given the structure of the movie, the worst spoiler is repeating its title. New York police commissioner Adolph Menjou heads out of town for a rest, and gets involved in the goings on behind a traveling circus. Spooky Dwight Frye (of "Dracula" fame) is the demented husband of carnival circus queen Greta Nissen, and is so insanely jealous of her and her obvious lover (Donald Cook) that he sets up a devious plan to knock all of them off (including himself!). Menjou and his pretty assistant Ruthelma Stevens must prevent Frye from going through with his evil plot, which includes cannibals, a chirping gorilla and Nissen's beloved dog. This is not really a mystery, since it is obvious from the start who the villain is, but simply a decent thriller of how Menjou deduces how to stop the killer from striking again. It is excellently photographed and moves along quickly enough to make it better than it could have been. Columbia pictures at this time was only noted for Frank Capra's "A" budget films, but occasionally, a nice surprise like this one comes along. Fortunately, some of them are cropping up at film festivals or revival houses (like New York's Film Forum or L.A.'s Nuart), and now on TCM. Menjou and Frye get the acting honors here, and Nissen's character is slightly reminiscent of Olga Baclanova's character in the earlier "Freaks". In fact, there are a few interesting similarities between this film and "Freaks", although there are none of the supposedly "grotestque" characters here that "Freaks" stunned 1932 film-goers with. Frye, of course, does menacing very well, and even as a cop, Menjou is still the elegant man about town. Keep an eye on the gorilla that Menjou observes screeching at him. It appears to be a plot development that somehow was deleted before the final print that made me think that one of the characters was somehow stuffed into a gorilla suit and was screaming "help me!" to get Menjou's attention.
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