Wagons Roll at Night, The (1941): Enright’s Circus Melodrama, Starring Bogart, Sylvia Sidney, and Eddie Albert

Ray Enright directed The Wagons Roll at Night, a circus melodrama, starring Humphrey Bogart as traveling carnival owner, Sylvia Sidney as his girlfriend, and Eddie Albert as a newcomer who falls in love with Nick’s sister.

The Wagons Roll at Night
The Wagons Roll at Night - 1941 - poster.png

1941 Movie Poster

The Wagons Roll at Night is a 1941 circus film directed by Ray Enright and starring Humphrey Bogart as traveling carnival owner Nick Coster, Sylvia

Grade: C+ (** out of *****)

Fred Niblo Jr. and Barry Trivers’ script is based on a 1936 novel by Francis Wallace, first published as a serial in “Saturday Evening Post.”

The film used the original circus setting, as Wallace’s novel was the basis for the earlier 1937 film Kid Galahad, directed by Michael Curtis, and featuring Bogart in a supporting role.

In 1962, United Artists produced a musical remake of the “boxing” version of Wallace’s story, directed by Phil Karlson and starring Elvis Presley as the boxer.

The tale begins when the lion Caesar escapes from the traveling circus owned and managed by Nick Coster; the aggressive animal is cornered in a grocery store by clerk Matt Varney.

Matt becomes an instant celebrity with the residents, and so Nick hires the farm boy to work with his current lion tamer, Hoffman the Great.

When Nick finds Hoffman drunk and passed out before the performance, he convinces Matt to take over Hoffman’s place. Matt does well, and Nick fires Hoffman.

Matt tries to apologize to Hoffman for taking over his job, and the latter goads him into fighting. Hoffman is badly injured by Caesar after he is pushed up next to the lion’s cage.

Nick’s girlfriend, Flo Lorraine, a fortune teller, drives Matt to Nick’s farm to hid him from the police, despite knowing that Nick is adamant about keeping circus people away from his family because he feels the former are beneath the latter.

Unknown to Flo, Nick’s younger sister Mary has come home after graduation. While Matt recovers from injuries, he and Flo fall in love.

Upon finding out, Nick goes to the farm and orders Matt to leave with him and to never see Mary again–Matt reluctantly agrees.

During a break between shows, Matt gets worried for being unable to contact Mary because of his promise to Nick. Flo believes that Matt is in love with her, but she is heartbroken when Matt tells her that he is in love with Mary. Flo then persuades Matt to ignore Nick’s order.

Once Nick returns from another trip, he learns that Matt is back at the farm. He arrives there, and, during an argument, he slaps Mary for being disrespectful, which prompts Matt to slug him.

After their fight, Nick plans to have Matt killed in the lion cage. He convinces Matt to perform with Caesar in order to build his reputation as a lion tamer. He then gives Matt an unloaded lion tamer’s gun. As Matt is in the cage, Flo and Mary arrive at the circus. Matt uses his skills against Caesar, but he loses the battle, as the unloaded gun has no effect in scaring the lion.

Mary persuades Nick to go into the cage to rescue Matt. He succeeds in distracting the lion away from Matt, but he is then attacked and killed by the lion.

Humphrey Bogart as Nick Coster
Sylvia Sidney as Flo Lorraine
Eddie Albert as Matt Varney
Joan Leslie as Mary Coster
Sig Ruman as Hoffman the Great (credited as Sig Rumann)
Cliff Clark as Doc
Charley Foy as Snapper
Frank Wilcox as Tex
John Ridgely as Arch
Clara Blandick as Mrs. Williams
Aldrich Bowker as Mr. Williams
Jack Mower as Bundy
Frank Mayo as Wally
Garry Owen as Gus
Eddie Acuff as pickpocket victim (uncredited)


Directed by Ray Enright
Written by Fred Niblo, Jr., Barry Trivers; Francis Wallace (story)
Produced by Hal B. Wallis, Harlan Thompson
Cinematography Sid Hickox
Edited by Mark Richards
Music by Heinz Roemheld
Distributed by Warner

Release date: April 26, 1941

Running time: 84 minutes