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Series / Frontier Circus

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Set in the Southwest during the late 1800s, Frontier Circus was a cross between a circus drama and a traditional Western, and starred Chill Wills, John Derek and Richard Jaeckel. The T & T Circus, operated by Colonel Casey Thompson (Wills), traveled from town to town in a wagon train. Ben Travis (Derek) was the straw boss who supervised the workmen, and Tony Gentry (Jaeckel) was the advance man, who scouted likely stopping places for the circus.

Frontier Circus ran for a single season on CBS from October 5, 1961, until September 6, 1962. The difference between its plot and the plot of most standard Westerns may have led to its short run.


Frontier Circus contains examples of:

  • Actual Pacifist: In "The Good Fight", the circus comes to the aid of a pacifistic sect who are being harassed by a local Cattle Baron who wants their land. The leader refuses to fight back even when armed riders burn down his barn.
  • Adventure Towns: The T & T Circus travelled from town to town in the American southwest; finding a new adventure in every town they stopped in.
  • And Now You Must Marry Me: In "The Courtship", the Southern Belle who runs the town attempts to force Casey to marry her by impounding all of the circus' equipment and animals.
  • Animal Assassin: In "The Depths of Fear", the lion tamer locks his wife and his rival inside a cage and unleashes a lion upon them.
  • Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy: In "The Inheritance", an arrogant Japanese acrobat and judo expert joins the troupe. He is constantly getting into fights with anyone who does not follow his Japanese customs, and quickly alienates the rest of the circus. Ben eventually brings him down a peg or two.
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  • Asian Rudeness: In "The Inheritance", a Japanese acrobat and judo expert joins the circus, and quickly alienates the rest of the circus with his arrogance.
  • Bandito: Ben and a group of stagecoach passengers are captured by a gang of banditos in "Naomi Champagne".
  • Batman in My Basement: In "Karina", Casey and Tony hide the runaway Karina in Casey's wagon, initially keeping her presence secret from Ben.
  • Battle in the Rain: "Coals of Fire" features a fist fight between Tony and Cato during a raging thunderstorm, as Tony attempts to stop Cato carrying out his mission of vengeance.
  • The Bet: In "The Race", a visiting nobleman bets $1,000 that his professional soldiers can beat the locals and the circus folk in a cross-country horse race. Tony becomes obsessed with winning the bet.
  • The Black Death: In "Incident at Pawnee Gun", Casey finds himself in a Quarantine with Extreme Prejudice situation when peace officers believe his chimpanzee has the bubonic plague.
  • Blasting It Out of Their Hands: Ben does this in "The Good Fight", disarming the villainous foreman leading a lynch mob by shooting him in the gun hand.
  • Broken Bridge: In "The Smallest Target", the T & T Circus is stranded in town after a bridge is washed out.
  • Bullying a Dragon: In "The Inheritance", a group of cowhands decide to pick a fight with a judo master. Who had already wiped the floor with them earlier in the episode.
  • Camp Cook: The circus' cook was called Cookie. He plays a major role in "The Shaggy Kings" when the circus' food supply is poisoned.
  • Captive Date: Don Diego does this to Naomi in "Naomi Champagne": staging a romantic dinner for her that she has no choice but to attend.
  • Cattle Baron: One attempts to drive a peaceful religious settlement off their land in "The Good Fight". After he gets cold feet, his foreman murders him and uses his widow to keep the scheme going.
  • The Cavalry: Casey and a gang of roustabouts come charging to Ben and Tony's rescue when they are pinned down by enemy gunfire while attempting to escape from the mine in "Patriarch of Purgatory".
  • Circuit Judge: Ben is hauled before a circuit judge, who is a Hanging Judge, when he is accused of murder in "Quick Shuffle".
  • Circus Brat: Of the regulars, Ben was born into the circus and has been with circuses all his life. It is mentioned that several of the other performers come from multiple generations of circus folk.
  • Clear Their Name: In "Quick Shuffle", Ben is accused of murder and arrested. Casey and Tony have to find some way to prove that Ben acted in self-defence before the local Hanging Judge sentences him to swing.
  • The Collector: A mild example is Duke Felix Otway in "The Race". He specialises in finding people whose talents he admires, and the manipulating them into joining his entourage, and making it effectively impossible for them to ever leave his service. He decides he wants Tony as part of his entourage.
  • Compressed Vice: In "Dr. Sam", Casey displays levels of chauvinism he never showed before or after, simply to drive the plot about a female doctor wanting to join the circus.
  • Con Man: In "Mr. Grady Regrets", Casey attempts to reform an old con man named Will Grady.
  • Cool Horse: "Lippizan" centres around Ben's quest to find a replacement cool horse for the circus's blind equestrian after he accidentally causes the death of her horse. At the the end of the episode, the horse - King - single-handedly fights off a wolf pack.
  • Corporal Punishment: In "The Daring Durandos", Ben spanks the youngest member of the Durandos flying trope for being a spoilt brat and attempting to break up the act.
  • The Corpse Stops Here: In "Mr. Grady Regrets", Grady enters his ex-wife's house to find her lying dead on the floor. In shock, he is sitting there talking to the body when the neighbour arrives and sees him.
  • Corrupt Hick: "Patriarch of Purgatory" features a religious fanatic who is the mayor of the eponymous town and who runs a mine that uses a slave labour force of Chinese. He imprisons Ben and Tony in the mine after they get too close to the truth.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Paco Durando in "The Daring Durandos". He threatens to cut the hands off anyone who touches his wife. His wife happens to be a New Old Flame of Ben's.
  • Culture Police: In "The Courtship", the circus arrives in New Atlanta, a town with laws against public performances like circuses.
  • Curtain Camouflage: In "The Smallest Target", Bobby hides behind a rack of hanging dresses in Bonnie's caravan.
  • Daddy Had a Good Reason for Abandoning You: A rare female example in "The Smallest Target". When the T & T Circus stops in a small town, sharpshooter Bonnie Stevens encounters the husband and son she abandoned years before, and she is forced to explain why she did so. She was feeling stifled and slowly going insane on the isolated ranch, so she left the child with the ranch foreman's wife (who had no children and who she knew would dote on the boy) because she knew life on the road was no life for a small child.
  • Disco Dan: In "The Courtship", the T & T Circus arrives in the town of New Atlanta, which is controlled by a pair of sisters who are attempting to live as if they are still in the antebellum south.
  • Divorce Is Temporary: At the end of "The Smallest Target", Bonnie, the circus sharpshooter, leaves the circus to return to the husband and son she abandoned years before.
  • Dudley Do-Right Stops to Help: In "The Race", Ben stops to help an injured rider, slowing himself down, much to Tony's disgust. Later Ben stages a fall, forcing Tony to choose between winning the race or helping his friend. The Power of Friendship wins out.
  • Eccentric Millionaire: Duke Felix Otway in "The Race". An Egomaniac Hunter and collector of men, he makes a $1,000 bet that his men can beat all comers in a cross-country horse race.
  • Egomaniac Hunter: Duke Felix Otway in "The Race". He travels the world trophy hunting. He also regards himself as a 'hunter of men', which is what sets the plot in motion.
  • El Cid Ploy: In "Naomi Champagne", Ben hoists the the dead body of Bandito leader Don Diego over his shoulders and holds a gun to his head. He threatens to 'kill' him in an attempt to bluff his way past Don Diego's men.
  • Everything's Louder with Bagpipes: In "The Clan MacDuff", the patriarch of the eponymous clan arrives at the circus playing his bagpipes, which spooks the animals. Ben and Tony get in a fight with his sons-in-law in an attempt to get him to stop.
  • Evil Matriarch: In "Mighty Like Rogues", a family of thieves joins the T & T Circus and attempts to pick it clean. The main instigator is the mother, who urges her less willing children into crime.
  • The Family That Slays Together: The Jukes, a family of thieves and con artists, attempts to take the T & T Circus for everything they can in "Mighty Like Rogues".
  • A Father to His Men: In a non-military example, Colonel Thomson took a very paternal interest in all of his performers, and they often came to him to settle problems. Casey even describes them as his family, and says that he doesn't have time for two families, in "The Courtship".
  • Femininity Failure: In "Stopover in Paradise", Ben romances the tomboyish owner of a local ranch. She attempts to become more feminine for him, but has trouble, especially with her high heeled shoes. Ben eventually tells her to take them off so he can teach her to dance properly.
  • Feuding Families: The circus gets caught in the middle of a centuries old feud between two families, the MacDuffs and the MacNeils, in "The Clan MacDuff". Ben and Tony have to work out how to get the couples together (while avoiding getting hitched themselves).
  • Fleeting Passionate Hobbies: In "Calamity Circus", Tony is shown with a overwhelming desire to master other skills of clowning, and spends much of the episode learning how to be a clown. This is at odds with his personality in other episodes where he is happy being the advance man and shows no interest in actually performing.
  • Frontier Doctor: Frontier doctors feature in two successive episodes. In "Dr. Sam", a female doctor from back east temporarily joins the circus as circus doctor, hoping that the circus will grant her more freedom than the straitlaced world back east. In "The Hunter and the Hunted", Tony has to fetch a doctor after Casey is badly injured in an accident, only to find that the doctor is being hunted by a gang of outlaws.
  • Gambling Brawl: In "Quick Shuffle", Ben catches a crooked dealer cheating him at poker. The dealer pulls a derringer and Ben is forced to shoot him in self-defence.
  • Ghost Extras: The nameless extras who made the majority of the performers and crew of the T & T Circus, who generally milled around spectating while the regulars and guest stars dealt with that week's plot.
  • Gilligan Cut: In "Journey From Hannibal", Casey tells Bertha that there is no way the conductor is going to throw him, her and the elephant off the train. The next shot is off Casey, Bertha and the elephant standing beside the tracks as the train pulls away.
  • Go-Go Enslavement: "Naomi Champagne", the bandito Don Diego dresses the showgirl Naomi in a very feminine gown when he forces her to have dinner with him.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: Both Ben and Tony are shown to be masters of bare knuckle brawling. This trope comes into play in "The Inheritance" where Ben is able to beat a judo master with nothing but his natural pugilistic talent.
  • Hand of Death: This technique is used in "Calamity Circus" to conceal the identity of the saboteur.
  • Hanging by the Fingers: At the climax of "Calamity Circus", the saboteur is left dangling by one hand from the trapeze, before slowly losing their grip and falling to their death.
  • Hanging Judge: In "Quick Shuffle", Ben is accused of murder, Judge Salem, the Circuit Judge, has reputation as a hanging judge. Casey and Tony have to find some way to prove his innocence before Ben swings.
  • High-Dive Hijinks: In "Never Won Fair Lady", a major part of the plot is driven by Casey trying to find someone who is willing to undertake his new high-diving act. Eventually, a milksop attempting to prove his bravery to win the heart of the female lion tamer takes up the challenge.
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: The town of Purgatory in "Patriarch of Purgatory".
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: Bandito leader Don Diego plans to have his way with the pretty showgirl Naomi when he captures the stagecoach in "Naomi Champagne".
  • Inconveniently Vanishing Exonerating Evidence: In "Quick Shuffle", Ben catches a crooked dealer cheating him in a poker game. The dealer pulls a derringer and Ben shoots him. Another gambler kicks the derringer under a cupboard to get Ben arrested so he can use a doctored IOU to claim ownership of the circus.
  • Injun Country: Being about a travelling circus on the American frontier, episodes often take place in Indian country. The Indians are often painted as a vague background threat, with the encounters with the tribes being hostile or friendly as the plot demands.
  • It Works Better with Bullets: In "The Balloon Girl", Katie points her rifle at Ben when he catches up with her to try and return her to the circus, only to discover that he had taken the precaution of removing the shells from it the night before.
  • I Want to Be a Real Man: In "Never Won Fair Lady", Red Buttons plays the milksop son of a famous general sent to the circus to toughen him up. After falling in love with the female lion tamer, he decides he wants to become brave.
  • Jabba Table Manners: In "The Courtship", Casey deliberately puts these on in an attempt to dissuade a woman who is attempting to trap him into marriage.
  • Just Following Orders: The former union officer who is the target of Cato's obsession in "Coals of Fire" gives this justification for his actions (murdering Cato's master and burning the plantation to the ground during Sherman's March to the Sea) during his Villainous Breakdown.
  • Kneel, Push, Trip: Done by Ben and Tony when they get in argument with a mine owner in "Winter Quarters".
  • Knife-Throwing Act: In "Karina", a woman, on the run after shooting her vicious husband, stows away in Casey's wagon. Casey agrees to let her join his circus as the target in a knife-throwing act, but local lawmen and her vengeful spouse soon arrive to exact vengeance.
  • Little Stowaway: In "The Smallest Target", Bobby stows away in one of the circus wagons to follow his mother.
  • Medicine Show: Casey used to work in a travelling medicine show before he founded the circus.
  • Mix and Match: Circus Drama + The Western.
  • Mountain Man: In "The Shaggy Kings", Ben and Tony team up with a group of buffalo hunters. This includes an old mountain man named Tiber who laments how the West has changed since he first arrived.
  • The Mountains of Illinois: "Journey From Hannibal" is set partially in Hannibal, Missouri. When Casey steps off the train, mountains are visible in the background. And the Mississippi River is curiously absent.
  • New Neo City: In "The Courtship", the T & T Circus visits New Atlanta, a town founded by refugees from Atlanta who are striving to keep the spirit of the antebellum South alive.
  • New Old Flame:
    • Ben encounters one in "The Good Fight". She is now the widow of a Cattle Baron who is attempting to drive out a peaceful religious community so she can take their land.
    • Happens to Ben again in "The Daring Durandos". The lead female flyer of the circus's new aerialist act is an old sweetheart of his from his days in Europe.
  • No More for Me: In "Journey From Hannibal", Casey leads an elephant into the small frontier town of Medicine Pole. The town drunk staggers out of the saloon holding a bottle, looks at the elephant, and immediately smashes the bottle before staggering away.
  • Not My Driver: In "Quick Shuffle", Tony takes the place a stagecoach driver in order to hijack the only witness who can prove Ben innocent of murder and drag him back to town and testify.
  • Off the Wagon: In "The Depths of Fear", Casey hires a washed-up drunk lion tamer as a wagon driver on the understanding that her sobers up. After he is humiliated by the circus's current lion tamer, he finds a bottle in Casey's wagon and gets drunk.
  • One of the Boys: Amy in "Stopover in Paradise". The only child of a rancher, her mother dies when she was few months old and her father raised her like he would a son.
  • Outdoor Bath Peeping: In "The Inheritance", Hideko comes up on Casey and Duffy while they are bathing in a lake, offering to scrub Casey's back. Casey has to keep telling her to turn around.
  • Parental Substitute: In "The Inheritance", Casey 'inherits' custody of a pair of almost adult children.
  • Playing Sick: In "Mighty Like Rogues", Con Man Georgie Jukes claims to have a bad back that prevents him doing any heavy work.
  • Powder Trail: Used by Ben and Tony as part of their plan to break out of the mine in "Patriarch of Purgatory".
  • Pretext for War: In "The Shaggy Kings", the renegade Indian Michael Smith tricks Ben and Tony into hunting buffalo on Cherokee lands, and then uses this an excuse to goad the Cherokee into going on the warpath.
  • Professional Gambler: Ben was a professional gambler at some time in his past. In "Quick Shuffle", he runs into another professional gambler he knew from the old days who uses a doctored IOU to try and claim half of the circus.
  • Quarantine with Extreme Prejudice: In "Incident at Pawnee Gun", Casey is travelling with a chimpanzee believed to have The Black Death. Lawmen quarantine Casey and the other patrons to the saloon, and shoot at anyone who tries to leave. Later, panicked townsfolk attempt to burn down the saloon with Casey and the others still inside.
  • Recruiting the Criminal: At the end of "Mighty Like Rogues", Casey hires Mrs Jukes to use her criminal skills to protect the circus from other thieves.
  • The Remnant: Jess Evans and his Confederate renegades in "The Hunter and the Hunted". Refused a pardon after the Civil War, they moved west and have been living as outlaws. Several are Still Wearing the Old Colors.
  • Retired Gunfighter: Tom Jace in "The Shaggy Kings".
  • Revenge Before Reason: Cato in "Coals of Fire". Obsessed with finding the Union officer who killed his master, Cato joined the Confederate army in hopes of running across him. After the war ended, he devoted his life to searching for him. When he eventually learns the officer's name and hometown, he joins the T & T Circus because it will be traveling there. Tony makes multiple attempts to make him see how empty his quest is, and how a man of his talents could do so much more with his life. But it isn't until Cato confronts his target and sees how pathetic he has become that he comes to his senses and leaves without killing him.
  • Road Sign Reversal: In "Winter Quarters", horse thieves move one of Tony's trail markers to send the circus up the wrong trail and strand them on top of a mountain.
  • Road Trip Plot: In "Journey From Hannibal", Casey has to pick up an elephant from Hannibal, Missouri and deliver it to the circus in Bismarck, Dakota Territory.
  • Sand Necktie: In "Mr. Grady Regrets", Ben and Tony bury a pair of outlaws they've captured up to their necks (and threaten to keep burying) in order to extract a confession from them.
  • Scarpia Ultimatum: In "Naomi Champagne", Bandito leader Don Diego tells Naomi he will release Ben and the other prisoners if Naomi agrees to marry him. He goes so far as to have Ben dragged behind a horse in order to force her hand.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: In "Stopover in Paradise", Ben romances a tomboyish ranch owner. She eventually decides to start wearing feminine clothing, evoking this trope (although she does suffer a Femininity Failure when it comes to walking in high heels).
  • Sobbin' Women: In a rare male example, Ben and Tony are kidnapped by a clan patriarch who drags them away to marry two of his daughters in "The Clan MacDuff". It is implied that this is not the first time he has done this.
  • The So-Called Coward: In "Never Won Fair Lady", Red Buttons plays a milksop sent to the circus by his father in order to toughen him up. Although the idea of physical violence makes him ill and he allows himself to be bullied by one of the performers, he eventually performs a stunt that no one else in the circus will perform (and decks his tormentor with a single punch).
  • Southern Belle: In "The Courtship", the T & T Circus arrives in New Atlanta, a town run by a pair of southern belle sisters, one of whom attempts to inveigle Casey into marriage.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Two pairs of star-crossed lovers feature in the Feuding Families plot of "The Clan MacDuff". Ben and Tony have to work out how to get the couples together (while avoiding getting hitched themselves).
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: In "The Shaggy Kings", a renegade Indian poisons the circus' meat supply in order to force them to divert to Adobe Walls.
  • That Man Is Dead: In "The Shaggy Kings", Retired Gunfighter Tom Jace is living under the name Jeb Randall. Every time someone accuses him of being Jace, he replies that "Tom Jace is dead".
  • There Will Be Toilet Paper: Happens to Casey when he attempts to shave while hungover in "Patriarch of Purgatory".
  • Tomboyish Name: In "Dr. Sam", Casey is shocked to discover that the doctor he has hired for the circus is actually a woman: with Sam being short for Samantha.
  • Tragic Keepsake: In "Coals of Fire", Cato is an ex-slave hunting his former master's killer. He carries his master's old sabre, which was the only item he was able to retrieve when the Union officer burned down the plantation.
  • Vehicular Sabotage: In "The Balloon Girl", Ben rigs Katie's hot air balloon so that the air valve will open when she reaches a thousand feet in case she tries to flee. She does and the balloon deflates while in the air, forcing her back to the ground.
  • What a Drag: In "Naomi Champagne", Don Diego has Ben dragged behind a horse in order to force Naomi to acquiesce to his Scarpia Ultimatum.
  • White Stallion: In "Lippizan", Ben sets out to acquire a Cool Horse for the circus's blind equestrian after he accidentally causes the death of her Lippizan stallion. He eventually acquires, breaks and trains a white stallion named King that is half-Lippizan, half-Arabian wild stallion. At the end of the episode, King single-handedly fights off a wolf pack.
  • The Wild West
  • William Telling: In "The Smallest Target", Bonnie shoots out the flame on a candle being held by Casey.
  • You Got Spunk: Bandito leader Don Diego says that he admires Naomi's spirit after she slaps him in the face during his I Have You Now, My Pretty scene in "Naomi Champagne".


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