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Film / Trapeze

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Trapeze is a 1956 film directed by Carol Reed.

Mike Ribble (Burt Lancaster) is a trapeze artist with a circus, namely a "flyer". He is attempting to perform "the triple", namely a triple somersault while flying through the air, a Real Life difficult feat to perform in flying trapeze. He does his three somersaults, and grabs the outstretched arms of his "catcher", Otto. Unfortunately, Mike's hands slip out of Otto's, he falls down to the net below... and he bounces off of the net.

Cut forward an unspecified time. Mike shattered his leg when he hit the ground after bouncing out of the net. He now walks with a serious limp. His career over, he's been reduced to fixing the rigging for the circus acts. He's bitter and he drinks a lot.

Enter Tino Orsini (Tony Curtis) an ambitious young flyer. Tino has heard of Mike doing the triple and wants Mike to teach it to him. Mike is initially reluctant, but he can't deny Tino's obvious talent and soon they are an act, Ribble & Orsini, with Mike as the catcher and Tino as the flyer, working on the triple.


Add to that mix one Lola (Gina Lollobrigida). Lola is an acrobat and also a curvaceous sexpot. Lola, who wants star billing in the circus and the security of a guaranteed contract, worms her way into the Ribble & Orsini act and into Tino's heart. However, while using her feminine wiles to manipulate Tino into making her the start of the act, she starts to fall in love with Mike.

Burt Lancaster actually was a circus acrobat before getting into acting, and did all of his own stunts except for the climactic "triple".



  • Circus Episode: A Love Triangle with trapeze artists who are trying to perfect a dangerous stunt.
  • Could Say It, But...: Bouglione is trying to get Tino to pass on a chance to perform in the New York circus with Mike and instead sign with him. When Tino says that Bouglione is trying to turn him against Mike, Bouglione denies it. Then he says "If I wished to put you against Mike, I would tell you, follow the old woman with his cane." So Tino follows the old woman carrying Mike's cane, who delivers it to the little attic room which Mike and Lola are using as a love nest.
  • Downer Beginning: The opening scene has Mike performing the triple, slipping from Otto's grasp, bouncing off the net to the ground and shattering his leg.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: The beginning of the film has Mike going around unshaven after his career as a flyer is over, drinking himself stupid in the local bar every night.
  • Fanservice: For starters, there's Gina Lollobrigida in her Hollywood debut, spending all of her time in the circus in corsets and tights, and spending all of her time away from the circus in tight sweaters. But there's also Mike and Tino, doing all their trapeze practice in leotards or shirtless.
  • I Lied: Bouglione the circus boss makes a deal with Lola to feature her and the rest of her acrobat partners. When he says that actually, they're fired, she says that they had a contract. Bouglione coolly replies "Perhaps you'd like to show it to me?"
  • The Last DJ: Mike seems to regard the circus and the flying trapeze as a higher calling. He says that in the good old days "the circus was a religion" and now it's "a lot of hoopla". He is utterly disgusted when Bouglione, the owner of the circus, puts sexy Lola into the Ribble & Orsini act for Fanservice.
  • Love Triangle: Tino falls for Lola, who is basically stringing him along. Lola winds up falling for Mike, who decides that he will exploit the situation to get Lola to convince Tino to do the triple—except that Mike winds up falling for Lola.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: Two for one. Mike is walking away at the end, having quit the circus. Lola dashes out to join them, and they walk away down the street together. This is observed by the little person who's been providing comic relief throughout the movie. He then turns and goes away from the camera, going back into the circus, where life will go on.
  • Old Flame: Rosa (Katy Jurado, Mrs. Ramirez from High Noon), who at some point in the backstory was Mike's lover but for whatever reason wound up married to another man. She clearly still carries a torch for Mike but nothing comes of it; it's Rosa who tells Mike that Lola is actually in love with him.
  • The Rival: Otto, once Mike's catcher, who now wants to be the catcher for talented Tino.
  • Running Gag: Some guy at the circus is desperately trying to sell off a snake charmer act, after one of the pythons killed his brother, the snake charmer. He keeps pestering people to buy his snakes, and they all respond with disgust. Finally Rosa buys the snakes.
  • Sweater Girl: Lola's civilian clothes consist of a series of absurdly tight sweaters and tops.
  • Training Montage: Mike and Tino practicing the triple. Once Mike loses his grip and Tino falls; once Tino goes into his somersault at the wrong time and smacks Mike in the face and busts his lip.