Man on a Tightrope (1953)

104-105 mins | Drama | May 1953

Director:

Elia Kazan

Producer:

Robert L. Jacks

Cinematographer:

Georg Krause

Editor:

Dorothy Spencer

Production Designers:

Hans H. Kuhnert, Theo Zwirsky

Production Company:

Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
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HISTORY

The working titles of this film were International Incident and Man on the Tightrope . Neil Paterson's book first appeared as a novelette in the British magazine Lilliput under the title International Incident . As noted by contemporary sources, the film is loosely based on real incidents involving the Brumbach Circus, which escaped from Communist-controlled East Germany to West Germany in 1950. Unlike the escape in the film, however, circus owner Gustav Brumbach slowly moved a few camouflaged pieces of equipment and performers at a time, over a period of several months. Contemporary sources note that many members of the Brumbach Circus, including Madame Brumbach and dwarf Hansi, appeared in or worked on the film, which was shot on location near Fall, Bavaria, the Isar River in Bavaria and Munich, Germany. The interior sequences were shot in the Bavaria-Filmkunst Studio in the Munich suburb of Geiselgasteig.
       In Mar 1952, Var reported that Anatole Litvak was to direct the picture and Hildegarde Neff was to star in it. A May 1952 LAT news item added that James Mason was tentatively set for a lead role. According to contemporary sources, the staff of Radio Free Europe acted as technical advisors on the picture, and an Aug 1952 HR news item noted that the Circus Krone helped to train Fredric March and Terry Moore. Studio publicity adds that to supplement the personnel and equipment supplied by the Brumbach circus, the studio rented elephants from the Cirque Bouglione of Paris and hired a family of Chinese jugglers from the Althoff-Bouglione Circus. Although studio publicity announced that ... More Less

The working titles of this film were International Incident and Man on the Tightrope . Neil Paterson's book first appeared as a novelette in the British magazine Lilliput under the title International Incident . As noted by contemporary sources, the film is loosely based on real incidents involving the Brumbach Circus, which escaped from Communist-controlled East Germany to West Germany in 1950. Unlike the escape in the film, however, circus owner Gustav Brumbach slowly moved a few camouflaged pieces of equipment and performers at a time, over a period of several months. Contemporary sources note that many members of the Brumbach Circus, including Madame Brumbach and dwarf Hansi, appeared in or worked on the film, which was shot on location near Fall, Bavaria, the Isar River in Bavaria and Munich, Germany. The interior sequences were shot in the Bavaria-Filmkunst Studio in the Munich suburb of Geiselgasteig.
       In Mar 1952, Var reported that Anatole Litvak was to direct the picture and Hildegarde Neff was to star in it. A May 1952 LAT news item added that James Mason was tentatively set for a lead role. According to contemporary sources, the staff of Radio Free Europe acted as technical advisors on the picture, and an Aug 1952 HR news item noted that the Circus Krone helped to train Fredric March and Terry Moore. Studio publicity adds that to supplement the personnel and equipment supplied by the Brumbach circus, the studio rented elephants from the Cirque Bouglione of Paris and hired a family of Chinese jugglers from the Althoff-Bouglione Circus. Although studio publicity announced that Gloria Grahame would sing two songs, both written by Bert Reisfeld, no songs are performed in the picture.
       According to HR news items, the film's New York premiere was a benefit for the International Rescue Committee. In modern sources, director Elia Kazan asserted that, against his wishes, studio production chief Darryl F. Zanuck cut twenty minutes from the film before its release. In his autobiography, Kazan stated that the crew and cast were subjected to harassment from the East German government, which threatened to harm family members still living there. According to Kazan, the first director of photography hired by the company quit due to these threats. Kazan also praised the crew and circus performers' dedication to the project despite the harsh conditions under which they lived, and revealed that he developed a close friendship with Hansi and several of the other performers. On 7 Dec 1953, Edward G. Robinson and Terry Moore co-starred in a Lux Radio Theatre version of Man on a Tightrope . More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
4 Apr 1953.
---
Cue
31 Jun 1953.
---
Daily Variety
1 Apr 53
p. 3.
Film Daily
6 Apr 53
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Feb 52
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Aug 52
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Aug 52
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Aug 52
pp. 5-6.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Aug 52
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Sep 52
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Sep 1952
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Sep 52
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Oct 52
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Oct 52
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Apr 53
p. 3, 8.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Jun 53
p. 4.
Life
11 May 1953.
---
Los Angeles Examiner
2 Apr 1953.
---
Los Angeles Times
2 May 1952.
---
Los Angeles Times
2 Apr 1953.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
4 Apr 53
p. 1781.
New York Times
7 Sep 1952.
---
New York Times
5 Jun 53
p. 9.
New York Times
21 Jun 1953.
---
New Yorker
13 Jun 1953.
---
Newsweek
11 May 1953.
---
Time
27 Apr 1953.
---
Variety
30 Jan 1952.
---
Variety
12 Mar 1952.
---
Variety
1 Apr 53
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
COSTUMES
Cost des
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Makeup artist
PRODUCTION MISC
Lion trainer
Auditor
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the book Man on the Tightrope by Neil Paterson (New York, 1952).
AUTHOR
MUSIC
"Chattanooga Choo Choo," music by Harry Warren.
COMPOSER
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
International Incident
Man on the Tightrope
Release Date:
May 1953
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 1 April 1953
Production Date:
2 September--24 October 1952 at Bavaria Studios, Geiselgasteig, Germany
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
1 April 1953
Copyright Number:
LP2598
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
104-105
Length(in feet):
9,442
Length(in reels):
11
Countries:
Germany, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
16142
SYNOPSIS

In Czechoslovakia in 1952, downtrodden circus man Karel Cernik struggles to keep together his beloved Cirkus Cernik, which belonged to him before being taken over by the Communist government. The government has allowed Karel to manage the circus, although he is constantly hounded by the secret police, known as the S.N.B., and the ministry of propaganda, which wants him to incorporate anti-Western themes into the show. Karel, who performs as a clown, must contend with losing his best workers to forced factory work, as well as the tension between his willful daughter Tereza and his unfaithful second wife Zama. Karel tries to end the budding romance between Tereza and roustabout Joe Vosdek by telling Tereza that they know nothing about Joe, who has been with the circus for only a year. Tereza insists that she loves Joe, however, and their argument is forgotten when Karel is taken to S.N.B. headquarters in Pilzen. There, the chief interrogates Karel, asking him why he is not performing a government-dictated act, in which he is to portray an American "Negro" who is abused by a Wall Street tycoon. Karel explains that the changes were not funny, and that the audience preferred his usual act. The chief orders him to resume the required act, and is about to dismiss him when propaganda minister Fesker casually asks him about the radio in his caravan. Karel nervously states that the radio cannot receive shortwave transmissions, and after he is dismissed, the S.N.B. officials are angered that Karel's dossier did not contain information about the radio. Although the police chief believes that Karel poses no threat, Fesker disagrees, ... +


In Czechoslovakia in 1952, downtrodden circus man Karel Cernik struggles to keep together his beloved Cirkus Cernik, which belonged to him before being taken over by the Communist government. The government has allowed Karel to manage the circus, although he is constantly hounded by the secret police, known as the S.N.B., and the ministry of propaganda, which wants him to incorporate anti-Western themes into the show. Karel, who performs as a clown, must contend with losing his best workers to forced factory work, as well as the tension between his willful daughter Tereza and his unfaithful second wife Zama. Karel tries to end the budding romance between Tereza and roustabout Joe Vosdek by telling Tereza that they know nothing about Joe, who has been with the circus for only a year. Tereza insists that she loves Joe, however, and their argument is forgotten when Karel is taken to S.N.B. headquarters in Pilzen. There, the chief interrogates Karel, asking him why he is not performing a government-dictated act, in which he is to portray an American "Negro" who is abused by a Wall Street tycoon. Karel explains that the changes were not funny, and that the audience preferred his usual act. The chief orders him to resume the required act, and is about to dismiss him when propaganda minister Fesker casually asks him about the radio in his caravan. Karel nervously states that the radio cannot receive shortwave transmissions, and after he is dismissed, the S.N.B. officials are angered that Karel's dossier did not contain information about the radio. Although the police chief believes that Karel poses no threat, Fesker disagrees, and piqued, the chief orders his subordinates to investigate Fesker as well as Karel. Unknown to the officials, Karel does listen to shortwave transmissions and, inspired by a recent spate of escapes from the Iron Curtain, has decided to move the circus over the border to Bavaria. Karel's co-conspiraters include his brother-in-law Jaromir and friend Konradin, and he tells them that there is a spy in the circus who reported the information about the radio and clown act. Karel suspects that Joe is the spy, but unknown to him, Tereza has learned that Joe is planning an escape attempt of his own. Joe was born in Czechoslovakia but was sent to the United States by his father when he was fourteen, and after joining the American Army, was sent overseas and eventually slipped across the border to search for his father. After discovering that his father was killed in a German concentration camp, Joe joined the circus in order to travel undetected. The next morning, Karel's rival, the grandiose Vladislav Barovik, visits and reveals that he knows every detail of Karel's escape plan. Barovik's information comes from Kalka, a dwarf who had eavesdropped on Karel after being fired by him. Barovik assures Karel that although they are rivals, they are both circus men, and that he will not betray him. Karel agrees to leave behind some equipment for Barovik, and the pair stage a fake fight to keep the police from guessing the truth about their conference. Realizing that he must act swiftly, Karel tells Jaromir and Konradin that they must head for the border immediately and, wanting to get rid of Joe, sends him ahead to a different location with the tent wagons. Karel, Konradin and Jaromir then drive to the small military checkpoint near a bridge, which they intend to walk across to the American-patrolled side. Having finalized their plans based on the layout of the outpost, they then return to the circus. At the camp, however, Krofta, who has worked for Karel for twenty years, vigorously protests Karel's unusual orders, and Karel realizes that he is the spy. Karel knocks Krofta unconscious and ties him up, then is confronted by Fesker, who interrogates him about his fight with Barovik. Realizing that he needs to obtain a travel permit, Karel goes with Fesker to police headquarters, where Fesker issues the permit because he suspects that Karel is planning an escape and should be followed. Karel then returns to the camp, where he informs an admiring Zama about his plan. Realizing how deep her quiet husband's courage runs, Zama is determined to renew their marriage, but first admits that Tereza accompanied Joe. Horrified, Karel leaves to find the couple, and when he learns the truth about Joe, Karel brings him back with Tereza. As they approach the checkpoint, Joe distracts a sentry and knocks him unconscious, then dons his uniform and pretends to be escorting the circus. Karel insists on being last in the parade of performers and caravans, while in Pilzen, Fesker is about to pursue the circus when he is arrested by a S.N.B. sergeant for exceeding his authority in issuing Karel's travel permit. As they come closer to the bridge, the circus performers delight the Communist soldiers, who believe that they are being given a free show. Krofta loosens his bonds and escapes, and as he threatens Karel with a gun, Kalka, who has been forgiven by Karel, attacks him, and during the ensuing struggle, Karel is fatally wounded. Kalka shoots and kills Krofta, and the performers use sound effects to cover up the gunshots. Just before they reach the barbed wire fence, the performers turn loose the circus' wolves, and Joe throws a homemade bomb at the soldiers. Joe then uses his pistol to hold off the soldiers while the others run, escort the animals and drive the caravans across the bridge, to the bemusement of the American soldiers. Both Konradin and lion tamer Rudolph are killed as they aid the others, and once the rest are safely across, they realize that Karel also has died. Obeying his dying wish, Zama orders the troupe to begin performing for the gathering crowd, and, finally united, Tereza echos her stepmother's orders. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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