The Big Show (1961 film)

The Big Show is a 1961 DeLuxe Color and CinemaScope drama film directed by James B. Clark, starring Esther Williams and Cliff Robertson. The cast also includes Robert Vaughn, Margia Dean, Nehemiah Persoff and David Nelson,[1][2] who was best known to audiences of the time for The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet television show. [3]

The Big Show
Directed byJames B. Clark
Produced byJames B. Clark
Ted Sherdeman
Written byTed Sherdeman
Based onI'll Never Go There Any More
by Jerome Weidman
StarringEsther Williams
Cliff Robertson
Nehemiah Persoff
Music by
CinematographyOtto Heller
Edited byBenjamin Laird
Associated Producers
Gemtaur Productions
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • July 14, 1961 (1961-07-14)
Running time
113 minutes
CountryUnited States

This is the third variation of Jerome Weidman's novel I'll Never Go There Any More.[4] The other two are Broken Lance (1954) a western version starring Spencer Tracy, and House of Strangers (1949) set in the big city starring Edward G. Robinson.[5]


Bruno Everhard (Persoff) is the rigid and uncompromising owner of a German traveling circus. His four sons and daughter all work for the circus, including as performers. Three of the boys, in particular Klaus (Vaughn), resent the favoritism Bruno shows one son, Josef (Robertson).

To curry his father's favor, Klaus abandons his sweetheart, circus aerialist Carlotta Martinez (Dean), to instead marry Teresa Vizzini (Mannhardt), whose father operates an animal menagerie that Bruno would like to merge with as a result. Josef, meantime, has fallen in love with a wealthy American woman, Hillary Allen (Williams), who wants him to quit the circus and begin a new life.

Bruno is defied by his daughter, who marries Eric (Nelson), a soldier who wishes to try the trapeze. Teresa, distraught at learning why Klaus married her, commits suicide at the circus, stepping into the cage of man-eating bear.

Carlotta, too, is almost killed, due to a faulty high wire during her act. Negligence is charged and Josef accepts the blame, sparing his father from having to go to prison. The other brothers seize the opportunity to take control of the circus. Bruno attempts a comeback on the trapeze, but has a heart attack and dies.

Released from prison, Josef vows revenge. Klaus decides to kill his own brother, but steps too close to the bear's cage and is killed. Wishing there to be no more violence or retribution, Josef decides to leave the circus for good, and Hillary agrees to marry him.



James Clark and Ted Sherdeman had worked together on A Dog of Flanders for Associated Producers Inc (API). They formed their own company, Gemtaur Productions, and made The Big Show with API.[6][7]

At one stage Millie Perkins was announced for the lead.[8]

The film was shot in Munich Germany and Copenhagen in November 1960.[9][10][11]

Esther Williams insisted on writing her own dialogue.[12]


Maury Dexter says the film was a moderate success at the box office.[13]

Critical response

Howard Thompson of The New York Times wrote in his review of the film: "Against the excellently staged sawdust numbers (the polar bear act is fascinating), the increasingly ugly incidents edge toward dank, Gothic melodrama (a trial and a murderous climactic fight). There is little lightness or imagination in either the script or the directing. As softening concessions, we have two obvious romantic interludes. In one, young Carol Christensen pairs off with David Nelson, as a smitten American soldier—and the youngsters do very nicely. The main match brackets the laconic Mr. Robertson, as the noblest circus heir, and a starry-eyed Miss Williams, in the briefest role of her career, as a rich American expatriate without a pool to her name. She does dip once, swiftly, in an inserted and strikingly photographed, resort sequence (Scandinavia). The film's best performance, with the cast striving hard, comes from Renate Mannhardt], as a lovely, betrayed bear tamer. Robert Vaughn, Margia Dean and Kurt Fecher are okay in other supporting parts. But The Big Show is an unappetizing bill of goods, beautiful to look at."[14]

Clark and Sherman worked on another film for API, Brother[15] but it appears to have not been made.[16]


The Big Show was released in theatres on July 14, 1961. The film was released on DVD on December 11, 2012.[17]

See also


  1. Blum 1962, p. 40.
  2. "The Big Show". Turner Classic Movies. Atlanta: Turner Broadcasting System (Time Warner). Retrieved November 14, 2016.
  3. BIG SHOW, the. (1961, Monthly Film Bulletin, 28, 79. Retrieved from
  4. Weidman, Jerome (1941). I'll Never Go There Any More (1st ed.). New York City: Simon & Schuster. ASIN B0007E3RPY.
  5. "The Big Show". AllMovie. San Francisco: All Media Network. Retrieved November 14, 2016.
  6. FIMLAND EVENTS. (1960, May 21). Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  7. FILMLAND EVENTS. (1960, Apr 12). Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  8. Scheuer, P. K. (1960, Aug 18). Inge trips self up in 'loss of roses'. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  9. Montoya to do regional music. (1960, Nov 21). Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  10. Scheuer, P. K. (1960, Nov 15). Harrison, portman up for 'sherlock'. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  11. Dexter, Maury (2012). Highway to Hollywood (PDF). p. 104.
  12. Hopper, H. (1961, Jan 30). Garner gets offer to co-star with marilyn. Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963) Retrieved from
  13. Dexter p 107
  14. Thompson, Howard (May 11, 1961). "Screen: 'The Big Show':Esther Williams Stars in Circus Film". The New York Times. New York City: The New York Times Company. Retrieved November 14, 2016.
  15. FILMLAND EVENTS. (1960, Sep 02). Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  16. Scheuer, P. K. (1960, Sep 05). Showman divulges first-aid program. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  17. "The Big Show". 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. 21st Century Fox. December 11, 2012. ASIN B00AB2NXA6. Retrieved November 14, 2016.


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