I have written about how so many of Kazan's film are extremely hard to find. Man on a Tightrope is certainly his second most unknown film (first of course being The Visitors which I have still yet to get a copy of). I've done a fair amount of research on Man on a Tightrope only to learn a few things. One of those things is that this will certainly be a small review.
Man on a Tightrope is an attempt at a melodrama-thriller. It stars Frederic March, Gloria Grahame, Terry Moore and Richard Boone. Gloria Grahame was not originally the first choice for her role. Marlene Dietrich was supposed to play the role but she eventually turned it down. What a shame. It seems every role was originally intended for Marlene Dietrich. Then second choice for the role was Hildegard Knef until Kazan spontaneously changed to Grahame.
Interestingly, Man on a Tightrope was shot on location in Bavaria, Germany. This really helped make me believe in the film.
Where does Man on a Tightrope stand today? It barely does. The most popular way of viewing the film is through The Elia Kazan DVD Collection - a collection I recommend for any Kazan film. In fact, if you look at Man on a Tightrope on IMDb it's poster is one of the Kazan DVD Collection. I'm certain most people only check this film out because of Kazan.
Kael Cernik is the head of a group of Czechoslovakian circus performers in 1952, Germany. However, as Czechoslovakian soon falls under the control of communists, Cernik is informed his circus will be re-organized by the communists. A great deal of Cernik's performers are sent to join the military and his circus equipment is taken away from him.
After learning that he is being forced to insert pro-communist messages into his remaining few acts, Cernik decides he has had enough. It is then he decides to escape Bavaria.
What a mess! This film is filled with characters who seem as if they're to have something essential to the plot of the film... and then we never see them again. It was as if Kazan began to film a ensemble drama where we begin to understand the characters when suddenly - BAM! Kazan decides he wants a thriller.
I just don't get it. Kazan claimed to be a communist and yet here he is, making a clearly anti-communism film. That just proves it. He was a manipulating genius. He pretended to care for several separate causes. However, in giving it two cents worth of thought, you can see right through him. On The Waterfront was clearly pro-communism, and Man on a Tightrope is clearly anti-communism. What kind of filmmaker would make a film to contradict what he believed in? What kind of filmmaker would try to convince people not to believe in his cause?
Each and every big name in the cast fails to deliver performances that could be called even 'adequate'. Here's the problem with melodramas: You can have a great actor star in a melodrama, and you will have no idea whether they will deliver a good performance. The genre itself is very unique, and quite frankly, I have learned that I do not like it.
Little can be said about Man on a Tightrope, and little deserves to be said about it. I recommend you don't see it, even if you love Kazan.
Man on a Tightrope,
Directed by Elia Kazan
Starring: Frederic March, Gloria Grahame, Terry Moore and Richard Boone
1. Baby Doll
2. Panic in the Streets
3. Splendor in the Grass
4. East of Eden
5. The Last Tycoon
7. Viva Zapata!
9. Wild River
10. America, America
11. Man on a Tightrope
12. The Arrangement