Fearless Fagan (1952): Stanley Donen’s Modest Comedy, Starring Janet Leigh (Man and Animal)

Stanley Donen directed Fearless Fagan, a modest black and white comedy starring Janet Leigh and Carleton Carpenter, about a clown trying to sneak his pet lion into service.

Grade: C (*1/2* out of *****)

Fearless Fagan
Fearless Fagan Poster.jpg

“Fearless Fagan” (1952) Poster

The film was inspired by the Feb 1951 Life Magazine story, “Fearless Fagan Finds a Home,” about Private Floyd D. Humeston, who requested an emergency furlough from Ft. Ord, California to take care of his pet lion.

For authenticity, Fagan played himself, and the army assigned Pvt Humeston as the film’s technical adviser.

Floyd Hilstown, who works in a circus as a clown with a lion act, is a draft dodger. He is given a chance to enlist, instead of going to jail, but he doesn’t want to leave his best friend, Fearless Fagan, a lion which Floyd has raised since he was just days old.

He rejects the circus owner Owen Gillman’s idea to buy the lion, after which Fagan would be worked as ordinary lion by circus lion tamer Emil Tacuchnitz.

Instead, Floyd joins the army and hides Fagan on the base. Things change when he meets Abbey Ames, who entertain the troops, and stumbles on Floyd and Fagan in the woods.  Soon, she appears in the woods with Colonel Horne and troops in search of the lion.

When Fagan is found Sgt. Kellwin, Captain Daniels and Colonel Horne try to help Floyd find the lion a home with the Ardley’s.

Escaping his cage, Fagan creates some humorous havoc along his way back to Floyd. After he is recaptured the Army gives Floyd the choice of selling Fagan to his old circus troop or euthanasia. When Emil comes to pick up Fagan, he is attacked.  Floyd knows a wounded lion will kill so he takes a pistol, but when he finds the lion he can’t pull the trigger and is himself attacked.

At the hospital, he’s told he’s to receive a medal and a ten-day pass and that Fagan is alive and well with Abbey in Hollywood. Floyd arrives at Abbey’s home and to his horror discovers a lion skin rug. Abbey then appears and leads Floyd to the outdoor pool where they find Fagan jumping from the diving board.

Though made on a modest budget of less than $1 million, the comedy was a failure at the box-office, earning $722,000 in the US and $228,000 overseas, resulting in loss of $324,000.


In the same year, Stanley Donen co-directed (with dancer Gene Kelly) what became one of his masterpieces, the popular musical comedy, Singin’ in the Rain.

Janet Leigh as Abbey Ames
Carleton Carpenter as Pvt. Floyd Hilstown of Company J
Keenan Wynn as Sgt. Kellwin of Company J
Richard Anderson as Capt. Daniels of Company J
Ellen Corby as Mrs. Ardley
Fearless Fagan as himself
Barbara Ruick as Nurse
John Call as Mr. Ardley
Robert Burton Owen Gillman
Wilton Graft as Col. Horne
Parley Baer as Emil Tacuchnitz


Directed by Stanley Donen
Written by Charles Lederer and Frederick Hazlett Brennan, based on a story by
Sidney Franklin and Eldon W. Griffiths
Music by Rudolph G. Kopp
Cinematography (b/w): Harold Lipstein
Edited by George White
Distributed by MGM
Release date:  August 15, 1952
Running time: 79 minutes

Budget: $855,000

Box office: $950,000


I am grateful to TCM for showing this comedy on January 29, 2020.