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The Circus Queen Murder (1933) HD online

The Circus Queen Murder (1933) HD online
Language: English
Category: Movie / Action / Crime / Drama / Mystery / Romance
Original Title: The Circus Queen Murder
Director: Roy William Neill
Writers: Fulton Oursler,Jo Swerling
Released: 1933
Duration: 1h 3min
Video type: Movie
Suave, lip-reading DA Thatcher Colt plans to get away from the big city for a while. So he and his secretary, Miss Kelly hop on a train for an Upstate NY town called Gilead. They expect a calm oasis, but when a small time circus rolls into town they soon find themselves caught up in a sordid tale of marital infidelity, murder, cruelty to animals, and cannibalism.
Cast overview:
Adolphe Menjou Adolphe Menjou - Thatcher Colt
Donald Cook Donald Cook - The Great Sebastian
Greta Nissen Greta Nissen - Josie La Tour
Ruthelma Stevens Ruthelma Stevens - Miss Kelly
Dwight Frye Dwight Frye - Flandrin
Harry Holman Harry Holman - Jim Dugan
George Rosener George Rosener - John T. Rainey

Presently available version, as seen on Turner Classic Movies, is the 1938 re-release, bearing a re-release Production Code seal of approval, and re-designed 1938 opening and closing credits.

The name of the circus, the John T. Rainey Circus, was specifically chosen so that extensive archive footage from _Rain or Shine_ (1930), also featuring a John T. Rainey Circus, could be used to advantage, as well as the sets and wagons.

Greta Nissen, who plays Josie La Tour, was the female lead in the never-released silent version of 'Howard Hughes'' Hell's Angels (1930). Since her Norwegian accent would have been unbelievable as the voice of an Englishwoman, she was replaced by Jean Harlow in the sound version.

Filmed February 6-24 1933, released April 10.

Reviews: [10]

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    ADOLPHE MENJOU and RUTHELMA STEVENS do a nice job as D.A. and secretary, a sort of Perry Mason and Della Street type of relationship, both of whom are practicing the art of lip reading, which we know is bound to become a plot device in helping to put the murderer away.

    Menjou is desperately in need of a vacation, so like so many other criminal sleuths before him, he goes to a small town and is soon involved with a circus troupe and a slew of suspects who are trying to kill either the circus queen or her paramour. For an exotic touch, there are traveling cannibals among the circus entertainers.

    There are a lot of high wire acrobatics and tension as the jealous husband (DWIGHT FRYE) climbs aboard the tent's outside perimeter to peer down at the high wire acts with a crazy gleam in his eyes. GRETA NISSEN is the circus queen (with a thick accent) that Menjou has to keep a sharp eye on.

    It's a diverting little circus drama, well photographed by Joseph August and directed at a fast clip by Roy William Neill.
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    This is the second film (in a mini-series of two) featuring Menjou as Thatcher Colt, Police Commissioner, the first being THE NIGHT CLUB LADY. They're both extremely well made and quite entertaining, a very diverting double. And well written: based on novels by Fulton Oursler, they have screenplays by Capra regulars Robert Riskin (the first) and Jo Swerling (this one).

    The similarities of the two films are many. In each, the character (and actor Menjou) shows off his language skills. In NIGHT CLUB LADY, each suspect is a different nationality, and Menjou plays a long scene on the phone in lightning French. Here, he overhears a conversation in German with Nisson (whose first language that was). In both, the time and place of the impending murder of the title lady is known, and Colt arrives in plenty of time with a large retinue of police, but is still unable to prevent the crime (a funny sort of hero). In both, the method of the murder is exotic, and in both Colt puts himself at risk, wearing a secret protective vest, to catch the murderer. In both, he has a personal side-kick named Kelly who handles all the important details, nicely played by Ruthelma Stevens (probably her largest film roles). His relationship with her is ambiguous. In the first film, he is constantly surprised in apparently compromising situations with her (actually demonstrating a wrestling hold or the murderer's method) which he blithely declines to explain. In the second, she is traveling with him on his vacation, and at the end, when she's in danger, he says that she's the only person he really cares about in the world. Their somewhat equivocal relationship is only one of the many little pleasures in the two films.

    But there are also many significant differences. NIGHT CLUB LADY is a whodunit with many equally guilty suspects; and whenever one begins to look more guilty, "you know who" gets killed. In this one, one more-or-less knows who the murderer is, and the tension is in whether he will be caught in time (in a ridiculously extended big-top sequence that cuts--and cuts--back and forth from the murderer, intended victim, police, spectators, etc.). In the first, the victim is rather unpleasant, and is killed off early, but here the victim is sympathetic and is killed near the end, a real plot flaw.

    The style of direction is even more dramatically different. The first is generally rather lighthearted, with an alcoholic Skeets Gallagher constantly interjecting humorous comments. It's brightly lit and takes place in posh surroundings. CIRCUS QUEEN is atmospheric, with heavy drama driving the plot. The circus ambiance is moody and dark, and the eerie growls and cries of the wild animals are used like soundtrack music for the night scenes with impressively unsettling results. For me, this effective development of atmosphere gives this film a slight edge over the first in the series. Needless to say, the two films had different directors. This one was directed by Roy William Neill, who also turned in the creepy, nearly unknown BLACK MOON the following year.

    Like most other Columbia films of the pre-Code era, this double has no reputation simply because they are virtually totally unavailable. What a shame!
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    Adolphe Menjou is a weary Police Commissioner on vacation in upstate New York. He gets entangled in a nearly bankrupt circus, and endeavors (unsuccessfully) to prevent THE CIRCUS QUEEN MURDER.

    This crisply directed and well-acted little drama is perhaps the best test of the auteur theory one could devise. Director Neill is best known as director of most of the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies, and the fantastic film noir Black Angel. If you ever catch his other Columbias on TCM, one notices that his movies have a distinct visual flair, and always seem to be moving on to the next plot point.

    In this one, Neill has a real problem -- and it is one he probably suffered with a lot. The story (as opposed to the script, which has a decent batch of the usual 30s wise talking) is terrible. The "mystery" is no mystery -- the killer is well known before the murder actually happens and there are only one or two "deductions". The murder itself happens far too late in movie (and is so telegraphed by the title of the movie, that it does not come as any surprise). Menjou, by the operations of the plot, seems ineffectual, rather than the clever unraveler of mysteries. And, courtesy of the story, there are long patches of film where there really is nothing going on.

    So what's an auteur to do? Well, at the beginning of the film, we get a montage of gangster action, with newspaper headlines. We get atmospheric rain when the circus wagon comes into town. We get circus atmosphere and more circus atmosphere. We get chilling cries of fearsome circus animals (even though those animals have very little to do with anything going on on the screen.) We also get Adolphe Menjou, acting the part of an elegant but burnt out policeman, with so much grace and elan that we do not notice that he really isn't doing much of anything. We also get lots of Dwight Frye (who thinks Renfield is a model for any character he might play) chewing the scenery in the sort of role Peter Lorre would have got (and actually acted) had the film been made 7 or 8 years later. Finally, we get lots of dangerous trapeze action. And, at last, we have the final confrontation between policeman and murderer, and the witty closing line (to which Menjou gives the perfect reading).

    In other words, we end up with an entertaining movie but an unstisfying one. It probably played well on the top half of a Columbia double feature, but a little time and effort by the scenario writer could have made this one great, as opposed to an interesting time-passer. The message here is that 30s film was always a collaborative medium and failure in one aspect of the production was really difficult to salvage through brilliance in one of the other ends.

    Oh -- and what's the spoiler? Given the structure of the movie, the worst spoiler is repeating its title.
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    This is just a terrific little movie featuring Thatcher Colt, the lip reading D.A. He was a creation of Anthony Abbott, who wrote the stories for Liberty Magazine. Everything about this movie was perfect, the pacing, the wit, the fact that Miss Kelly, his lovely secretary was not just decoration but a vital part of solving the mystery. Ruthelma Stevens also played Miss Kelly in "The Night Club Lady" (1932), the only other Thatcher Colt story adapted for the screen - this movie makes you wish there had been more. Adolph Menjou brought sophistication and urbanity to Thatcher Colt, a harassed New York City D.A. who badly needs a holiday and goes to Gilead, a town where he thinks he can become John Smith.

    When the circus comes to town all hope of a quiet vacation becomes a dream as he and Miss Kelly are thrown into some seedy circus intrigues. The circus is in strife - it is due to close after it's stay in Gilead due to lack of money, there is also a steamy love triangle involving "King of the High Wire" Sebastian (Donald Cook), Josie La Tour (Greta Nissen) a seductive bare back rider and Flandrin, her deranged husband (Dwight Frye). Yes, that's right, Dwight Frye can add another deranged characterization to his rogue's gallery and he is fantastic.

    Before he can finish his third bag of peanuts Colt's expertise is needed to help solve the case but he gets a lot of help from Miss Kelly. Flandrin is missing, his caravan is in disarray and there is a gunshot through the window, but while Josie manages to keep a stiff upper lip about that, the death of her little dog Choo Choo sends her into hysterics. There are also threatening letters being sent - "If the circus attempts to open, you will all die!!" - that sort of thing, plus the circus star attraction, a group of cannibals have a habit of going missing. The climatic high wire performance is done very thrillingly and will surprise you!!

    Greta Nissen was a lovely Norwegian actress whose career never recovered from the "Hell's Angels" debacle. She had already completed her role as the faithless Helen in the silent version but when sound came in Howard Hughes remade the movie featuring his protégé, the unknown Jean Harlow, because Nissen's accent was so hard to understand. Four years later, it wasn't much better - it was still a challenge to understand Miss Nissen in her role of Josie. Strangely, to me, she seemed much clearer in "Transatlantic" made two years previously in 1931.

    Highly Recommended.
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    Circus Queen Murder, The (1933)

    ** 1/2 (out of 4)

    Rare Columbia mystery was the second film in a two-film series. Police Chief Thatcher Colt (Adolphe Menjou) gets tired of the gangster in NYC so he takes a vacation with his secretary (Ruthelma Stevens) on a vacation. He runs across a friend who owns a circus and decides to stick around when an abusive husband (Dwight Frye) turns up dead. The suspects could be his wife, her lover or perhaps African cannibals. This is a fairly entertaining mystery that works best with its pre-code nature, which at times is fairly ghoulish considering the era that this was made. There's talk of bodies being cut up and fed to lions and there's even a theory that the African cannibals have eaten a victim. Some might be offended by the black folks being called cannibals with their voodoo dolls and skull lying around so be warned there. Menjou and Nissen work well together but it's Frye and Greta Nissen that really steal the show. Donald Cook, best known for his role in The Public Enemy is also good in his supporting role. The actual mystery isn't too hard to solve, which is the film's biggest problem but the 63-minute running time goes by fast. This isn't one of the best of the genre but it's a good time killer.
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    New York police commissioner Adolph Menjou heads out of town for a rest, and gets involved in the goings on behind a traveling circus. Spooky Dwight Frye (of "Dracula" fame) is the demented husband of carnival circus queen Greta Nissen, and is so insanely jealous of her and her obvious lover (Donald Cook) that he sets up a devious plan to knock all of them off (including himself!). Menjou and his pretty assistant Ruthelma Stevens must prevent Frye from going through with his evil plot, which includes cannibals, a chirping gorilla and Nissen's beloved dog. This is not really a mystery, since it is obvious from the start who the villain is, but simply a decent thriller of how Menjou deduces how to stop the killer from striking again. It is excellently photographed and moves along quickly enough to make it better than it could have been. Columbia pictures at this time was only noted for Frank Capra's "A" budget films, but occasionally, a nice surprise like this one comes along. Fortunately, some of them are cropping up at film festivals or revival houses (like New York's Film Forum or L.A.'s Nuart), and now on TCM. Menjou and Frye get the acting honors here, and Nissen's character is slightly reminiscent of Olga Baclanova's character in the earlier "Freaks". In fact, there are a few interesting similarities between this film and "Freaks", although there are none of the supposedly "grotestque" characters here that "Freaks" stunned 1932 film-goers with. Frye, of course, does menacing very well, and even as a cop, Menjou is still the elegant man about town. Keep an eye on the gorilla that Menjou observes screeching at him. It appears to be a plot development that somehow was deleted before the final print that made me think that one of the characters was somehow stuffed into a gorilla suit and was screaming "help me!" to get Menjou's attention.
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    **SPOILERS** Not your standard whodunit since the killer is known right from the start even when he's disguised as a Belgian Congo man eating cannibal after faking his death at the beginning of the film.

    The story has to do with NYC Police Commissioner Thatcher Colt, Adolphe Menjou, who on his first vacation in six years decides to go upstate with his faithful secretary Kelly, Ruthelma Stevens, in the out of the way town of Gilead New York. It's in Gilead that Colt plans to get away from the hustle and bustle as well as crime of the big city. As you would expect Colt ends up getting far more then he bargained for when the circus comes to town with one of it's entertainers determined to wipe out all the acts under the big top. By murdering all those who preform them!

    Were not kept in the dark to who this person is in him being trapeze artist Flandrin, Dwight Frye, in that he's extremely jealous and mad at the second male member of the circus' flying trapeze act The Great Sabastian, Donald Cook. It's The Great Sabastian who's fooling around with Flandrin's wife Josie La Tour, Greta Nissen, who also happens to be his high flying partner! Flandrin not really wanting to live anymore with his wife Josie leaving him is now determined to murder both her and her lover The Great Sabastian before he ends up killing himself with his last bullet!

    Colt now realizing that his vacation is a thing of the past decides to trap Flandrin by convincing him that he succeeded in killing himself which is part of his plan, by no one suspecting him, in convincing both Josie and The Great Sabastian that he's no longer a threat to either one of them. Thus having both of them let their guard down! There's also this squad of cannibals who Flandrin is using as cover in his mad plan to murder Josie and the Great Sabastian by him using one of their poison dart blow guns as the murder weapon.

    ***SPOILERS*** Colt does everything he possibly can to keep the certifiably insane and dangerous Flandrin at bay until the police arrive. But in Flandrin being so determined to kill himself, as well as Josie & The Great Sabastian, there's very little that Colt and the police can do to stop him. Like a wild eyed kamikaze pilot guiding his explosive laden plane into a US Navy aircraft carrier Flandrin's determination, as well as insanity, overcomes whatever fear he has of death!

    Dwight Frye in one of his rare, if you can call it that, normal roles makes the best out of a mediocre film with its actual star Adolphe Menjou, as Thatcher Colt, more or less reduced to a secondary role as being Frye's advocate in the movie. A part that Menjou seemed very happy to have in that the less he's seen in the film the easier those watching it will not remember him being in it!
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    This is a highly entertaining B mystery movie. While a ton of these type of movies were made in the 1930s and 40s, this one is a bit different. First, Adolph Menjou who plays the lead is nothing like the typical leading man in such films. Like he usually was, he's debonair and exudes class--and is so different from folks like Charlie Chan and Sherlock Holmes and the Falcon. And, he also happens to be a cop on vacation who walks into the middle of crimes--not the typical "dopey cop" you'd find in many Bs (especially the Boston Blackie films). Watching Menjou was always a pleasure and this film is no exception. An additional factor that made the film more entertaining was its begin set at a circus. There's a part of most viewers that is excited in seeing high wire acts, clowns and the like. And finally, it's interesting because the killer is just plain bonkers--and quite entertaining.

    Well written and acted, this film is well worth seeing if, like me, you love B-movies. While not a great film, it is among the better examples of the genre.
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    1933's "The Circus Queen Murder" was Columbia's second adaptation of an Anthony Abbot Thatcher Colt novel, in this case 1932's "About the Murder of the Circus Queen," a followup to the previous year's "The Night Club Lady." Back as the lip reading Colt is Adolphe Menjou, happily teamed again with gorgeous Ruthelma Stevens as faithful secretary Miss Kelly, as savvy and sassy as ever. This time around, there's precious little mystery, with Colt taken out of his native New York City milieu, watching over suspicious activities in a traveling circus far from home. It does evoke Tod Browning's "Freaks," with such pre-code details as cannibalism adding to the doom laden atmosphere, not really a mystery as defined in the title, the circus queen only meeting her fate in the final reel. Fortunately, we have Dwight Frye's Flandrin commanding attention, and in a larger role than usual he's definitely in rare form, better in dangerous mode than his bland hero from 1935's "The Crime of Doctor Crespi." Both Thatcher Colt features have remained stubbornly elusive over the years, while one of Columbia's four picture Steve Trent series has suffered the indignity of actually disappearing without any trace. There would be one revival for Colt, in 1942's "The Panther's Claw," casting dependable Sidney Blackmer as Colt, his fate on screen ending just like his inspiration Philo Vance, at Poverty Row's PRC.
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    Now here's a fun thriller with something for everyone. Adolphe Menjou plays the alpha male, a DA on vacation who is engulfed in the intrigue of a circus and gets to order everyone around and appear invulnerable. With a name like Colt what else could one expect. His assistant played by Ruthelma Stevens is sharp as a tack and every bit as resourceful. A real take charge lady unafraid to take chances. Then there's Harry Holman and his fat man act, wiping his brow and nervous as a cat in a roomful of rocking chairs, as the circus' publicity agent. Dwight Frye is perfect as the spurned lover with another great performance two years after his Renfield in Dracula. And last but not least we have the pretty people, handsome Donald Cook and the delectable Greta Nissen, the acrobats and pivot of the film. Stock characters one might say but in this film they add up to a fun thriller. And let's not forget a hint of horror with the suggestion a disappeared body may have been eaten by lions or cannibals. How gruesome! It's snappy, it moves right along, and it'll keep you watching even though you might have guessed the outcome. My only criticism has to do with the utter disregard for the fate of the circus queen who is about to be murdered and the total lack of sensitivity toward the victim. That part was handled very poorly and in fact the movie would have been much better had the murder been prevented as it appeared it could have been. It would have led to some very dramatic action and a much better resolution.