Billy Rose’s Jumbo (MGM 1962, Doris Day, Stephen Boyd)

Billy Rose's Jumbo

Hailed by Variety as “right up there among the all-time great screen musicals,” Charles Walters’ Jumbo is a glorious MGM adaptation of a 1935 stage production that was itself based on a book by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. The film veers from the stage version’s plot but has retained most of the original Rodgers and Hart songs, and its star, the irrepressible Jimmy Durante.

He plays circus owner Pop Wonder, whose fondness for a crap shoot has left the Wonder Circus in financial disarray and open to a hostile takeover from arch rival John Noble (Dean Jagger), who’s keen to acquire Pop’s star attraction – a performing elephant named Jumbo (Sidney). The arrival of jack-of-all-trades Sam Rawlins (Stephen Boyd) brings hope to the failing operation, especially to Pop’s spunky daughter Kitty (Doris Day), who falls in love with the virile stranger.

But when Kitty discovers that Sam is in fact Noble’s son and has been sent to undermine the competition, morale plummets and Pop finally surrenders to the buyout. Kitty, Pop and his long-suffering fiancée Lulu (Martha Raye) are left to eke out a living as sideshow entertainers. Just when all seems lost, however, a remorseful Sam turns up with Jumbo and promises to help return the Wonder Circus to its former glories.

Day may have been cinema’s biggest box-office attraction in 1962, but Jumbo flopped on its release. The fact that its Christmas opening in New York coincided with a bitter snow-storm and a newspaper strike didn’t help, but many critics also condemned it as sorely outdated. But posterity can work wonders in the movies, and the same qualities that elicited a snooty dismissal from the New York Times are precisely those that make the film so appealing today.

Billy Rose's Jumbo

Cast: Doris Day, Stephen Boyd, Jimmy Durante, Martha Raye, Dean Jagger, Joseph Waring, Lynn Wood, Charles Watts, James Chandler, Robert Burton, Wilson Wood, Norman Leavitt, Grady Sutton

Circus Performers: The Carlisles, The Pedrolas, The Wazzans, The Hannefords, Billy Barton, Corky Cristiani, Victor Julian, Sidney the elephant

Director: Charles Walters
Writer: Sidney Sheldon, adapted from a stage musical that was based on a book by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur
Producer: Joe Pasternak, Martin Melcher
Director of Photography: William H. Daniels

Production Companies: Arwin Productions, Euterpe, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
Release Date: 6 December 1962
Running Time: 123 minutes
Genres: Musical, Romance
Country: United States of America

Tagline: Jump for joy it’s jumbo!

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