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Billy Rose’s Jumbo

Oh! I was thinking this was Dumbo, so I’ve been avoiding watching it. (The spine of the blu ray just says “Jumbo” without the “Billy Rose” bit.)

This starts off with an overture, then a long title sequence, and then a sort of introduction by this guy (sung, of course) — he’s singing that the premise of the movie is to bring the circus to you. So we’re like nine minutes in when the movie starts.

It’s like they’re really trying to class this movie up like it’s a blockbuster like… er… Gone With The Wind or something.

Doris Day!

I was starting to wonder whether this was going to be all sing-songey, but there’s talking, too.

The movie bombed:

MGM bought the rights to the musical soon after it reached the stage.


According to MGM accounts, the film earned $2.5 million in the US and Canada and $1.5 million overseas, but because of its high cost recorded a loss of $3,956,000. It was the last film producer Joe Pasternak made at MGM.

The director Charles Walters only made two movies after this one.

So I guess Doris Day has to carry this movie. I mean, we’ve also got Jimmy Durante and Martha Raye, but for such a big budget movie, all of these starts are a bit (or a lot) past their peaks in popularity.

Let’s see… it’s Durante’s final movie. Martha Raye did one movie (eight years later) after this. Day did a bunch of movies until 1968.

Oh, the original stage musical was from 1935, but it didn’t get a movie adaptation until 1962. I guess that explains why it seems like such an anachronism.

Heh heh, that explains the title:

Original producer Billy Rose stipulated that if a film version was ever made, he must be credited in the title, even if he were not personally involved.

This is a good wikipedia page:

Both play and film feature Durante leading a live elephant and being stopped by a police officer, who asks him, “What are you doing with that elephant?” Durante’s reply, “What elephant?”, was a show-stopper in 1935. This comedy bit was reprised in his role in Billy Rose’s Jumbo and is likely to have contributed to the popularity of the idiom, the “elephant in the room”.

But man, this is not a good movie. What were they thinking! Doing an overly long vaudeville/circus musical, with virtually no star drawing power, in 1962? Without a director like Stanley Donen, who could possibly have made this work? Instead it’s just flabby and tedious.

I mean, it holds true to the premise of bringing the circus to you, but I think the reason people like going to circuses is to look at all this stuff in person — to be in the presence of an elephant — and a filmed circus isn’t the same at all.

There’s also a plot involving the circus going insolvent, and they weave the scenes from this plot into the circus scenes. Which is a classic structure and can work perfectly. But these scenes are filmed so indifferently. Have they heard of the term “blocking”? These scenes are just amazingly amateurishly filmed, as if they used a newbie second unit director for these parts.

The elephant is really talented, though.

And Stephen Boyd as the beefcake, I mean romantic lead… His only talent seems to be standing around with that expression on his face.

I usually ditch movies that are this tedious, but I watched this to the bitter end. OK, while doing some programming in the middle. Because it looks quite good? I think that’s the reason I didn’t bail.

But there’s really no reason for anybody to watch this — it’s horrible. Martha Raye gets some good schtick in, but it’s otherwise… just…

Billy Rose’s Jumbo. Charles Walters. 1962.

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