Jumbo (1962) - Doris Day's Circus Romcom

Make it stop! I cannot tear my eyes away from this train wreck.

Jimmy Durante owns the little circus with the big elephant in Billy Rose's Jumbo (1962). You'd think this plot would be a source of merriment and fun, but this is one of the most depressing movies about a circus ever made. (And it's a musical comedy.)

First,  this is meant to be a spectacle to ravage the senses. It is a circus, after all. We in the movie audience should be just as excited as if we were in the front row under the big top. Unfortunately, the movie drags.

Durante commits to clown antics that take too long; children will fall asleep. Doris Day, as Durante's daughter, is a bareback rider in a tutu who is obviously not doing her own stunts.

The title character, a prancing pachyderm, does not seem interested at all in its performance. It's very difficult to watch this crestfallen creature go through its paces. The elephant gets so little enjoyment from the mind-numbing routine, you'd think it's serving a nickel at San Quentin.

Second, each of the (human) leads is at least 15 years too mature for his/her role.

I'm ignoring you.
What makes it worse is that middle-aged Doris Day is asked to go even farther back in time and play an ingenue. This sophisticated star is directed to return to juvenile behavior, aggressively flirting with a guy ("I saw him first!"), following him around when he clearly wants solitude ("I'm just stalking him a little.") and seducing him in a wig of spun straw and a dress of cotton candy pink while on a carousel.

The frilliness. The cloyness. The Lisa Frank of it all!

I'm still ignoring you.

[Let me pause to say that if Doris Day feigns stupidity in one more movie, I'm going to scream! How many times have we heard her use some variation of "Oh, I'm just a woman," to explain why her character knows nothing? There are some actors -male and female- who play clueless very well in spite of the audience knowing how smart they are.

Judy Holliday made perplexed characters an art form. The Three Stooges turned doltishness into a cottage industry. Marylin Monroe made herself into a living icon with her brand of cluelessness. Doris Day cannot pull this off. I'm sorry. She does not play dense very well. You KNOW she knows. You cannot suspend disbelief. You get a migraine trying.]

Third, Martha Raye - dear, funny Martha Raye- does what she can as Durante's fiancee, but there is nothing for this lady of comedy to do.

Fourth, the real tragedy of this film is casting Stephen Boyd (notably having starred in the award-winning sword and sandal drama Ben-Hur not too long before this) as the son of the rival circus owner, a man cowered by his father (Dean Jagger, whose performance is the only one with bite in it).

What's this? Stephen Boyd is under someone's thumb? I think not! Why, oh, why did you bother with this movie, Boyd?!

You are Messala! You are the guy who would betray your best friend in the most epic terms, have guys whipped within an inch of their lives, imprison perfectly innocent women that you used to like and do all kinds of totally foul, power-mad, Ancient Roman-y things, and now you're taking a fushia-clad Doris Day for pony rides?!

Excuse me. We need a little ruggedness and hostility after this movie.


That's better.

For less irritating, circus-themed movies see
  • Trapeze - Burt Lancaster, Gina Lollabridgida and Tony Curtis walk the tight rope in this taut backstage drama.
  • The Greatest Show on Earth - Charleton Heston leads a cast of many legends in this sawdust and spangles story.


  1. Ha! When I saw this pop up on the reader, I wasn't going to click it since I normally don't leave negative comments on positive reviews, but I'm glad I followed through. This movie is such a huge stinker. That last song and dance number, with everyone as clowns, is misery on toast. P.U.

  2. Oh boy. This really does sound like a train wreck. Thanks for the warning!

  3. Right on so many counts. I love Doris Day but this movie was just painful.

  4. Doris Day maybe the greatest female singer America ever produced. A terrific actress but don't see her in this. See her in, Love me or leave me, or young man with a horn


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"Java's Journey: A really fun, informative well-written blog that explores all of the things - and I mean all - I love about classic films."-- Flick Chick of A Person In The Dark Email: java-rush@hotmail.com


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