(1956 c 105')
Adapted from Max Catto’s novel, an ageing trapeze artist helps a younger man learn to do a triple while both of them fall in love with a beautiful woman who does trapeze too.
Trapeze artist Mike Ribble (Burt Lancaster) performs a triple somersault and is caught by the other man, but he loses his grip and falls into the net and bounces off it to the ground.
Tino Orsini (Tony Curtis) with a pack walks into the circus looking for Mike Ribble. He sees Lola (Gina Lollobrigida) is talking to Bouglione (Thomas Gomez) and showing him what she can do. The dwarf Max (John Puleo) tells Tino that Ribble is up working on the rigging. Tino climbs up and tells Ribble that he is a flyer. He wants Ribble to teach him how to do the triple. Ribble says young kids are trying to suck him back in. Tino performs on the bar with the swinging bar, and Ribble coaches him. Tino says he modeled his style after his, and Ribble tells him to create his own style, or he will always be a second-rater. Ribble swings and catches Tino, who says he is a great catcher. Ribble tells him to fly back to Brooklyn. Ribble goes down and limps out with a cane. Max tells Tino that Ribble is sad because he is no longer a flyer. Tino asks Bouglione if he is interested, and he says yes but warns him.
At night in the street Tino swings on a bar for Ribble to see him work. Tino does cartwheels and a flip, but Ribble says it is lousy. Rosa (Katy Jurado) with a horse calls to Mike, and she says she is back from Africa. The horse-owner Chikki (Gerard Landry) makes her follow him to keep the horses from getting cold. Mike says Chikki is always concerned about his horses. She goes with Chikki. Mike throws a chair at Tino, who catches it. Tino talks to Rosa.
Mike goes in a bar and asks for a drink. Lola tells Mike what she needs. Tino comes in and orders a beer. Tino says only six men in the world flew a triple. Mike says there will be no more, and Tino won’t do it because he drinks too much. Mike sits alone at a table and stops lamps from swinging with his cane. Rosa sits near Mike, who asks if she is happy with Chikki. She says she is not unhappy. Mike asks her to stop mothering him. She asks about the boy, and Mike says he wants to be a flyer. Rosa wonders why Mike did not become a catcher. Mike beckons Tino and pushes him into the street. Mike tells Rosa that Tino could be the seventh man in the world to do a triple. Mike goes out and sees Tino sitting on the curb. They walk together, and Tino walks on his hands. Mike puts his cane on Tino’s foot and walks on his hands too, saying that tomorrow they will get down to business.
In the big tent Mike shows Tino a film and instructs him. Tino practices on the bar, and Mike advises him about his timing. Mike goes up and catches Tino and lets him go. He tells him to be careful how he hits the net. Mike is having Tino doing doubles, and Tino bounces off the net.
In the bar Tino is eating, and Mike shows him what he needs to do. They practice again, and Tino wants to try the triple. Lola shows Bouglione her costume and starts talking in Italian. Bouglione says trapeze is always a better act. He tells Rosa on a horse he expects flames. Lola watches Tino and Mike on the trapeze, and she asks Bouglione if she can work with Ribble; but he says Ribble always worked as a double. He hints she could become part of his act. Lola tells two men that they are out, and they decide to go to Marseilles ahead of her. Mike asks Tino to try the triple. Mike asks women to clear the ring and watch out. Tino swings back and forth, and Mike tells him not to quit. Tino does a triple and hits Mike in the face; both fall into the net. Mike says he almost made it. Mike says they will give him the triple on opening night. Rosa is glad to see Mike smiling again. Lola has put on her costume and climbs up the rope, and Mike sees her doing poses. She tells him she is trying out her costume. He twirls the rope, and she spins around. He says she does not have to worry about that costume. She would like to learn from him, and he suggests they talk about it. Mike takes off his shirt and asks Paul for brandy and two cups. Mike tells Tino to stay there, and Max works on him.
Mike knocks on Lola’s door, and he goes in. Bouglione tells Mike he hopes the public will like it. He urges Mike to take Lola into his act and goes out. She tells Mike that Tino needs him to be great. She wants to get better with the best like him. He says their act is dangerous, but she is not afraid. She thinks they could work well together. He asks about her wrists and legs. Mike kisses her and has a bottle in his left hand. He says he is afraid and is sticking to a two-act. She curses him in Italian as he leaves. She hears Tino singing in the shower. Later she and Tino walk out of the tent holding hands.
In front of the lion cage Mike tells Max to go easy on his ankle. Mike sees Otto (Jean-Pierre Kerien), who used to be his catcher. Otto asks if Orsini is good, and Mike tells Harry (Sidney James) to get him a snake. Harry is wiping off a large snake. Mike sees Tino teaching Lola how to fly on the trapeze. Mike tells Tino to get her down. Bouglione says she looks good, but Mike says she will ruin the act. Bouglione says she will improve the act; he knows what the public wants. Mike says he is offering him something unique. Bouglione says he buys the acts, and he wants her. As he is walking out, he says the three must be up there opening night, or they are out. Mike tells Lola she is in the act. He tells her to come over, and he will catch her. Tino tells her to climb up on the bar. She swings, and Mikes says higher. She flies, and he catches her and then lets her fall in the net. He tells her to get it up higher.
In the street Tino tries to explain to Mike, who says they lost the triple for opening night. Mike says he wanted a two-act with nobody coming between. Tino says no one will. Mike walks off, and Lola asks Tino if Mike is angry. She says it is Bouglione. Tino tells her he wants to learn the triple. She kisses Tino and says she knows nothing about these things. She says she does not want to hurt the act and says goodbye. Tino asks her to stay. A gypsy offers to tell their fortune, and Lola gives her money and tells her something in Italian.
Bouglione is counting the people standing in line in the street. Inside the tent is filled with people, and horses perform. Bouglione shakes hands with Mr. John Ringling North (Minor Watson). Lola tells Mike she is nervous. Rosa stands on the back of a horse and performs in the ring, jumping through a hoop of fire. Backstage the two men tell Lola they got the booking, and she must come with them. She says no, and they push her around. Mike notices and tells them to get out. Two of the men restrain the third and guide him out. Lola tells Mike he did not do that for the act and hugs him. Mike says the spotlight always stays on her. She asks why he hates her, and he tells her she must get out, or he may not catch her. Rosa and the horse come out, and Bouglione gives orders. Tino asks Lola what happened.
Mike, Tino, and Lola appear on a stage and enter the ring. They climb up to the bars. Tino flies, and Mike catches him. Then Tino does one somersault. Then he adds a twist. He does one and a half, and Mike catches his ankles. Backstage the horse is shot, and Chikki tells Rosa that she killed him. Chikki says he is leaving and walks out. Max asks Otto how much longer he will keep watching Tino and Mike. Lola swings, and Mike catches her. She asks to go again, but Tino says they should stay with what they rehearsed because of Mike. North tells Bouglione he last saw Mike when he was hurt. Tino and Lola swing together, and Mikes catches her and then Tino. People applaud, and Mike and Tino come down on the net. Lola swings, and Max says that is not in the act. She swings by her heels before coming down to the net. Tino takes a bow with her and tells her she should not have done that.
Backstage Bouglione tells Lola that tomorrow night all three will sign a contract, and he is counting on her loyalty. North shakes hands with Mike, who is glad to see him. North says he wanted to see a triple. Mike introduces North to Tino. North wants to sees a triple and says he will take it to New York. Lola complains she did not hear her name mentioned. Mike asks her if she can do a triple. Tino tries to assuage her anger and follows her. She says Mike is jealous because she loves Tino. They kiss, and she says Mike is afraid of losing the life that Tino gives him. She says he is the flyer and must make the decision. Mike goes looking for Tino, and the band starts playing for the parade. Max is calling for Tino and Lola. Bouglione tells Mike to get his act together before joining the parade. Mike moves his chariot out of the way. Women ride elephants.
Tino and Lola walk, and Tino apologizes to Mike. He asks Mike why he wants to get rid of Lola. Mike says she is not interested in the act but only herself. Mike says he missed the parade and make other mistakes. Tino says he will work for the triple; but he wants Lola most of all because he loves her and she loves him. Mike tells Rosa they lost the triple. She tells Mike that Lola loves him, not Tino. He asks how she knows. She says she has been through the trip herself. He hopes she is right so he can have the triple.
Bouglione tells Lola that he has waited five days, and still there is no contract. He tells her that without Tino she has nothing. Bouglione tells Otto that maybe he should catch the boy. Mike directs the practice and asks Tino to show him the triple. Mike says his timing is off and to take the day off. Mike tells Lola to work on a new trick and tells her to pirouette back to the bar. She does not think she is ready, but she will try. Mike catches her and kisses her.
At night Rosa advises Mike to leave them alone. He says she brought it up, and it is not her business. Tino kisses Lola, who sees Mike watching them from a balcony. She tells Tino she is tired and puts him off. She gives him a little kiss goodnight. He asks if she has changed, and she confirms she has not. Mike walks downstairs and sees Lola go out and follows her on the street. She waits for him and tells him it is over. She will only see him on the bar. Mike says she does not love Tino, and he may tell him. He advises her to tell Tino before he finds out, and then he kisses her passionately. She asks him if she is fool enough to take chances now. He urges her to tell him. She says she does not want to love him. She asks him to let it finish now, but he says it cannot.
In his office Bouglione asks Lola is she is not pleased with his offer. She says she wants Madison Square Garden. Mike is practicing the triple with Tino. Bouglione asks her if Tino will break with Ribble, and she says he will.
Harry gives Rosa his snake, but Chikki has another horse for her. He asks where Mike is and goes to find him. Lola tells Mike she is leaving the act for a new act with Tino. Jealous Chikki tells Mike he made a fool of him with his wife. Mike pushes him out of the way, and the lion cage door opens. A lion comes out, and Mike uses his cane which is knocked away. Mike’s hand is bleeding, and the lion walks around him. Other men manage to get the lion back in the cage, and Mike writhes in pain. Lola treats his hand and asks for the first-aid box. Mike sees that she cares for him, and she kisses his hand. Bouglione sees them and walks away with a monkey.
Tino comes in and asks Bouglione if Mike was hurt. Bouglione says Mike is busy with Lola. Bouglione says she can handle all of them. Bouglione tells Tino not to worry. Tino says Bouglione would do anything to get a contract. Bouglione says Mike is looking after Tino’s business.
Tino walks outside, and North arrives in his car. Tino walks to an outdoor market and follows the old lady Bouglione mentioned. They go up to the third floor, and she lets him in to a bar. He orders a beer.
Mike opens a door, and the old lady hands him something. On the balcony Lola and Mike talk over their plans. He tells her he loves her, and he feels alive again. The old lady comes down the stairs and mentions that she is pretty. Mike comes down the stairs and sees Tino, who is playing a pinball machine he has never beaten. Mike advises him on the game and suggests he tilt it. Tino says by cheating he loses the game. Tino asks Mike to wait for him to win. Mike says he cannot beat it. Lola comes down, sees Tino, and apologizes to him. She says they meant to tell him. Tino says that Mike said that anybody can get her. Tino tells Mike to tell her. She turns away, and Mike says he loves her. Tino slaps Mike and then slugs him twice. Tino says he will not kill him because he wants him to watch him. He tells Mike to try to forget him.
At the circus Bouglione tells North that Tino will sign with him. Bouglione has a contract in hand and tells Mike he is through. Mike asks him for one night. Bouglione tells him to get out of his skins. Mike goes to Tino, who tells Lola what they will do tonight. Tino ignores Mike and goes to check the rigging. Mike and Lola agree that they did this to Tino. Mike says he suddenly knew he loves her, but it was too late. He asks her to talk to Bouglione. She asks Mike to leave them alone.
Lola and Mike are performing with Otto as the catcher. Tino sees that Mike is on the bar and tells him to get off; but Mike refuses. They perform together, and Mike asks Tino to show North the triple. Mike asks Tino to have nerve. Bouglione sees Otto on the ground and orders the net taken down. Mike tells Tino he can do it. Bouglione has women dance in the ring. Mike keeps urging Tino to do it. Tino looks down and is scared. He takes some resin, and Mike encourages him. The women stop dancing, and it becomes quiet. North stands up. Tino swings and does the triple. People applaud, and the band plays. The three performers climb down the ropes. People congratulate Tino, and North tells the photographers to get pictures of them. Mike says Tino made it easy. North says that in his circus they will use a net. Tino says he wants to keep the act together, and North says that is how it will be. Tino answers questions and talks about the timing. He says Mike helped him do it. Mike walks to his dressing-room and puts on his pants. He tells Otto not to push him too fast in New York. Otto says the act is still his, but Mike says there is too much between them. Mike walks away, and Rosa watches him. Mike walks out into the street, and Lola in a dress catches up and walks with him.
This romantic drama portrays the skill and dangers of trapeze artists. The glamour of a pretty woman challenges the quest for a greater act, and they have to work out the love triangle. In authority are the owners who use the performers to make money. The circus also entertains by showing humans interacting well with animals. Humans in their own interactions have to manage their own animal instincts.