High Command: Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis in (and on) “Trapeze”

I’ve watched a few movies lately which I haven’t posted about here. My one-line review of 1952′s underworld soap opera Casque d’Or is basically, “Simone Signoret eats cheese off a knife. Thanks France!” Slightly longer review: Signoret is sultry in a layered performance; she’s great at conveying irony and intelligence with just a quirk of her lips.

Even more fun was last Saturday’s adventure, 1956′s Trapeze. It’s playing again this Thursday at AFI, so you can catch it on the big screen! It’s another soap: a circus melodrama, a love triangle with trapeze geniuses Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis vs. scheming, down-on-her-luck acrobat Gina Lollobrigida.

I didn’t care about the love triangle even a little tiny bit, but I loved this movie. Lancaster and Curtis have their usual smoldering chemistry with unsettled power dynamics. There’s tons of coaching scenes, lots of discussion of the purity of their sport/art, tested loyalties and unstinting admiration. Spills, thrills and chills. (The opening scene is a shocker so be sure to get there on time.) On the way out I overheard one guy say that the men’s relationship was “homoerotic, of course,” which… sure, in the way that pedagogy is often erotic. Leadership has erotic elements, and yeah, Tony Curtis is always going to find those elements and bat his magnificent lashes at them, that’s what they pay him for. This is basically a mask-of-command, coach-and-skater movie, fun and grabby.

About Eve Tushnet

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