Judge Brett Cullum wrote this review of a Doris Day musical for the same thing its star got—peanuts!
Lulu: Happy Hunting!
Billy Rose's Jumbo was many things: the last lavish musical from MGM, the last leading role for Jimmy Durante, the last time Doris Day would appear in a musical, and the biggest failure of Doris Day's career. It was also one of the last things Busby Berkley worked on as a director; he also filmed all the incredible circus acts you see in the movie. So Billy Rose's Jumbo is a lot of things, but mostly it's just a ton of fun you can file in the "they don't make them like this anymore" category. Certainly nobody's going to confuse it with the classics of the musical genre, but there are some incredible set pieces coupled with some well-done songs by Rodgers and Hart. It's the perfect family movie for any day you want to take everyone to the circus.
Billy Rose's Jumbo began as a stage spectacular back in the '30s, with Jimmy Durante in the lead. It's called "Billy Rose's" because, contractually, they had to use the creator's name in the title to get the adaptation rights. Merged with the book (which was adapted by Sidney Sheldon) are several great Rodgers and Hart standards that work well to showcase the singing talent. There were four leads for this 1962 production: Doris Day (Please Don't Eat the Daisies) as Kitty Wonder, Jimmy Durante (Carnival) as Pop Wonder, Martha Rae (Hellzapoppin') as Lulu, and Stephen Boyd (Ben-Hur) as Sam Rawlins. The story is pretty simple and straightforward. Pop Wonder runs a traveling circus with his daughter, and through gambling and mismanagement they are barely able to scrape by. Enter Sam Rawlins at a hard moment, who seems to help them out. Little do they know his father is a rival circus producer who wants to let Sam pay off their bills so he can lay claim to the circus and its star attraction, an elephant named Jumbo. Despite being a large elephant, Jumbo seems to be an exceptional dancer, and a pachyderm who thinks he's human. Martha Rae's Lulu is the romantic interest for Pop Wonder, and also the source of most of the comic relief in the film.
The performances in Billy Rose's Jumbo are all pretty solid. Doris Day is in fine singing voice, and seems at home on the back of a horse. It's definitely her show, and she nimbly manages to carry the movie quite well. Jimmy Durante and Martha Raye make a cute couple with some great vaudeville-inspired one-liners. Stephen Boyd is a little out of his element handling the musical numbers, but he looks handsome enough for Day to fall for. The elephant doesn't get to do much, but when Jumbo is on screen he steals the scene from his talented human co-stars. Also breathtaking are the beautifully choreographed circus acts peppered throughout the film. They have a staged feeling, but they come off as visual eye candy that many will spot as obvious influences on modern day filmmakers like Baz Luhrman (Moulin Rouge). The costumes, the sets, and the production values are all well suited for this big top extravaganza. If the movie falls short anywhere it's with the plodding script, which doesn't do much other than offer a framework to hang all the other elements on. It's not a bad musical at all, just one that probably came out ten years too late to be a smash success.
The film is presented in a glorious anamorphic widescreen presentation, with vibrant colors and hardly any dirt or grain present. The soundtrack has been remastered to a full surround treatment, and everything seems top-notch. Warner Brothers has really become the studio to watch for film preservation! Surprisingly with this production, they don't offer much in the extras department. We get a 1953 Tom and Jerry animated short called Jerry and Jumbo in which the mouse gets some help from an elephant in dodging the cat. Also included is an old musical short called Yours Sincerely, which features more Rodgers and Hart tunes. There is also a theatrical trailer, which looks cleaned up, and which is presented in the same anamorphic widescreen as the main feature.
All in all, Billy Rose's Jumbo is easy to recommend. It's sweet, good-natured, and goes by quickly and easily. The stars are all likable, and this is what Doris Day does best. And what a treat to see Martha Raye and Jimmy Durante in fine form. It's a forgotten gem that is treated very well in the technical transfer by Warner Brothers. You can find it as a stand alone title, or coupled together with several of Day's films in a box set. If you're looking for something fun for the whole family, go with the elephant movie.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Musical Short Yours Sincerely
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