Fri 12 Dec 2008
THE MIGHTY BARNUM. 20th Century, 1934. Wallace Beery, Adolphe Menjou, Virginia Bruce, Rochelle Hudson, Janet Beecher, George Brasno, Olive Brasno. Screenwriter, based on his play: Gene Fowler; director: Walter Lang.
I ordered some Edgar Wallace movies on DVD from an online dealer, and he sent me a packet of Wallace Beery instead. Not good, as I have never been a Wallace Beery fan, but the dealer said to keep them and said he’d send me the Wallace movies anyway.
To make a long story short, I never did get the Edgar Wallace movies. He sent another set of DVDs entirely, but these were ones I didn’t have and didn’t mind having, so I let things be. I won’t order from this fellow again, though.
I’ve looked up Wallace Beery on the Internet to learn, as I knew in general but not in specific, that he was a very bankable star in the silent film era — and into the 1930s as well, having only a small difficulty in the transition. He spoke in a slow, drawling voice and had a mild propensity for mugging while on camera. (Keep in mind I’m using only The Mighty Barnum to gauge from, but many of the sources I found online say much the same thing.)
In any case, he’s likeable enough, and unless you require accuracy in your biographical movie watching, The Mighty Barnum is entirely acceptable as light entertainment. If there ever was a man whose life could be played for laughs, without being a comedian himself, it would have been P. T. Barnum.
Mentioned (and seen) in the film, among others, are Madame Zorro, the Bearded Lady; Jumbo the Elephant; Col. Tom Thumb and his wife Livinia (played by George Brasno, a midget himself, and his sister Olive); and Jenny Lind (the lovely Virginia Bruce), the source of Barnum’s greatest triumph, and (according to the movie, at least) his greatest disaster. (I wonder if Virginia Bruce did her own singing. I’ve yet to find a source that says whether or not, definitively.)
Everything is all scrambled around chronologically, from all accounts, and not even the name of Barnum’s partner in the Barnum & Bailey Circus, which came along later than the events in the movie, is given correctly.