Plot Summary - A backstage glimpse at the workings of a debt-ridden travelling circus "The Greatest T. Rainey Shows", performances rain or shine. Owned by pretty Mary Rainey since the death of her dad who started this circus, she's helped by manager Smiley (Joe Cook), who also happens to be a fabulous acrobat. One of their circus family has a rich dad who they hope will invest in the circus - but when the performers are invited to a big society dinner party hosted by the dad, Smiley and pals decide (for some reason) to wreak havoc at the dinner table not limited to serving up this big plate of a pile of string that's posing as spaghetti and other shenanigans. Dad thinks they're all a bunch of "ruffians", and refuses to make an investment. Soon the performers, who haven't been paid in awhile, refuse to perform until they are paid the dough they're owed - but a bad man wants to get control of the circus himself, so gets a fake attachment put against the payroll, making Mary unable to pay her circus performers. And with an audience already waiting in the tent - the show must go on! Smiley, Mary, and a few others including a black man (Clarence Muse) who "sho' can play the calliope" put on a show that's a hit. But soon more trouble when the circus tent catches on fire.
Review - I enjoy a good old-fashioned circus film - this was pretty good. The film as screened at Cinecon 44 was an alternate silent version of the film, with a synchronized soundtrack. The comedic plot is quite loose - a lot of it is actually just a glimpse behind-the-scenes at the circus and circus acts - the fat lady, a pair of fake Siamese twins, and some poor lions, unfed and encaged in very small circus cages (very sad actually). The tent fire scene was very realistic and well done, by the way. The acrobatics done by talented Joe Cook in the show-stopping, almost one-man circus show they put on are amazing - he balances on a big ball while moving up a ramp, he juggles rings while walking on a short tightrope, he balances another man on his feet and flips him in circles - neat stuff. I enjoyed the music of the calliope as played on the soundtrack - this was one circus I would love to go to myself! (For the acrobatics, not the sad-to-see mistreated lions.) A fun to watch, entertaining film - it was directed by Frank Capra. Rating - 8/10 stars