Trapeze (1956): Carol Reed’s Circus Melodrama, Starring Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Gina Lollobrigida

Enjoyable trash: “Trapeze,” one of British director Carol Reed’s most commercially successful films is also one of his weakest artistically.

After all, this is the brilliant director of such seminal political thrillers as “Odd Man Out,” “The Third Man,” and “”The Fallen Idol,” all made within three years!

Adapted to the screen by James R. Webb and Liam O’Brien, from the novel “The Killing Frost” by Max Catto, Trapeze benefits from its trio of appealing stars, Burt Lancaster (whose company produced the film) and Tony Curtis, both at their most handsome, vying for the love of Gina Lollobrigida.

Burt Lancaster plays Mike Ribble, the injured master of trapeze, famous for doing the impossible “triple” act.  After his injury, a result of an accident, Mike takes a job as a rigger for a Parisian circus.  He’s now the only man who can teach the young, ambitious acrobat Tino Orsini (Tony Curtis) the death-defying triple somersault. But is Tino ready and good enough for that?

There are high jinks and silly melodramatics on and off the high-wire.  Things get complicated when the attractive but scheming Lola (Gina Lollobrigida) enters the circus and interrupt their lives first by seducing Tino and then Mike, realizing the latter is her true love.

Reportedly, the male leads performed some of their stunts, though the risky ones, which are exciting to watch were done by pros. “Trapeze” can’t conceal the fact that there is more erotic tension and acting chemistry between Lancaster and Curtis than between either man and Lola.

The film’s commercial success stems in part from the colorful setting and ambience, having been largely shot in the Cirque d’Hiver in Paris.  Ace cinematographer Robert Krasker, who collaborated with Reed on better films, contributes to the ambience with his sharp images.

You can spot in a small part Johnny Puelo as Max the Dwarf, the man who served as one of the Harmonica Rascals with Borah Minevitch.