JUMBO (Charles Walters, 1962)

Today I began watching belatedly for the first time Billy Rose’s Jumbo with this thought: This is the sort of film that my father would have (or must have) liked; but I won’t. But I do. The much rewritten 1935 Broadway musical—the original book was by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, no less—has been transformed by Charles Walters into a lovely, gracious, unsentimental film. Written by Sidney Sheldon and populated by tactful long-shots rather than an overabundance of bug-eyed closeups (partly this is strategic, since doubles are performing the spectacular circus stunts rather than the film’s stars), this film lets in a lot of sky and, with it, some of the mystery of Time. Without pressing hard, or even seeming to press at all, the film brought a fine ache to my heart.
     The weakest aspect is the plot—how much so the new plot, I have no idea. The financially struggling Wonder Circus was a good place to start, but the rivalry between it and another, more solvent rival enterprise, whose owner wants Wonder’s star elephant, Jumbo, is tedious—and the other owner’s son, working at Wonder incognito: well, this is silly. The boy, Sam Rawlins, falls in love with “Pop” Wonder’s daughter, Kitty.
     Jimmy Durante starred in the original show and has a substantial role here as “Pop” Wonder. He is (as ever) pure joy to watch and listen to—and, yes, there’s the inevitable joke about a resemblance between “Pop” and Jumbo. Martha Raye delights as a circus member who has long been sweet on “Pop,” and in clown makeup Raye’s trademark big mouth, enlarged, is a scream. Stephen Boyd is stiff as Sam, as he usually is, but of course his part is so embarrassing. Starring as Kitty Wonder, Doris Day isn’t at all selfconscious, as she usually is. She is in her comfort zone and in command there. All in all, this is her best performance.
     The terrific Rodgers & Hart score includes “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” “This Can’t Be Love” and, performed better by Day than one might think possible, “Little Girl Blue.”

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