The Wagons Roll at Night

The Wagons Roll at Night is a 1941 circus film directed by Ray Enright and starring Humphrey Bogart as traveling carnival owner Nick Coster, Sylvia Sidney as his girlfriend, and Eddie Albert as a newcomer who falls in love with Nick's sister, played by Joan Leslie. The screenplay is by Fred Niblo Jr. and Barry Trivers, and the film is based on a 1936 novel by Francis Wallace, first published as a serial in The Saturday Evening Post.

The Wagons Roll at Night
1941 Movie Poster
Directed byRay Enright
Produced byHal B. Wallis
Harlan Thompson
Written byFred Niblo, Jr.
Barry Trivers
Francis Wallace (story)
StarringHumphrey Bogart
Sylvia Sidney
Eddie Albert
Music byHeinz Roemheld
CinematographySid Hickox
Edited byMark Richards
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Release date
  • April 26, 1941 (1941-04-26)
Running time
84 minutes
CountryUnited States

This film marks the only instance to date when the story was presented using its original circus setting, as Wallace's novel was the basis for the earlier 1937 film Kid Galahad, directed by Michael Curtiz - also by Warner Bros. and featuring Bogart in a supporting role - but using the boxing world as a backdrop. In 1962, United Artists produced a musical remake of the "boxing" version of Wallace's story under the same title, directed by Phil Karlson and starring Elvis Presley as the boxer.[1]


From a traveling carnival managed by Nick Coster (Humphrey Bogart), an aggressive lion named Caesar escapes, but is cornered in a grocery store by clerk Matt Varney (Eddie Albert). Seeing that Matt has become an instant celebrity with the town's residents, Nick hires the farm boy to work with his current lion tamer, Hoffman the Great (Sig Ruman), who drinks alcohol before his shows. When Hoffman is passed out after being inebriated and is unable to perform, Nick convinces Matt that he is ready to run the show. After a successful performance in the lion cage, Nick replaces Hoffman with Matt as his lion tamer.

At a bar in the city, Matt unsuccessfully tries to apologize to Hoffman for taking over his job. Hoffman follows Matt back to the circus and engages him into a fight next to the lion cages. Hoffman is killed by Caesar after he is pushed up next to the lion's cage. Nick's girlfriend, Flo Lorraine (Sylvia Sidney), a fortune teller at the circus, spirits Matt away to Nick's farm so to prevent him from being accused by the police for Hoffman's death. Unknowing to Flo, Nick's younger sister Mary (Joan Leslie) had just returned from schooling at a convent. Nick has purposely kept carnival people away from her, because he feels they are inferior. Matt and Flo end up falling in love. When Nick returns from a business trip, he learns that Matt is at his farm in the company of his sister. He travels to the farm and orders Matt to leave with him and to never see Mary again. Matt reluctantly agrees to Nick's demand.

During a break between circus shows, Matt becomes increasingly worried that he cannot contact Mary because of his promise to Nick. At the suggestion of a fellow circus member, Flo believes that Matt is in love with her, but she becomes heartbroken when Matt tells her that he is in love with Mary. Flo then persuades Matt to ignore Nick's warning not to see Mary. Once Nick returns from another trip, he learns that Matt is back at the farm. He arrives there, and, during an argument, he slaps Mary for being disrespectful. Matt then slugs him to the ground.

After their fight, Nick plans to have Matt killed in the lion cage. He convinces Matt to perform with Caesar in order to earn a great reputation as a lion tamer. He then gives Matt an unloaded lion tamer's gun. As Matt is in the cage with the mad lion, Flo and Mary arrive at the circus. Matt uses his skills against Caesar, but is seen fighting a losing battle, as the unloaded gun has no effect in scaring the lion. Nick is persuaded by Mary to go into the cage to rescue Matt. He distracts the lion away from Matt, but is subsequently attacked and killed by the mad lion.



  1. "Kid Galahad". Time Out. Retrieved September 14, 2013.
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