Acknowledged as a classic of silent cinema, E.A. Dupont's famous big-top triangle doesn't survive nearly as well as the experiments of fellow UFA magician F.W. Murnau (whose own circus opus, Four Devils, sadly still survives only in tantalizing stills), perhaps because, unlike Murnau's, Dupont's flamboyant stylistics are tied less to an artist's view of the world than to a craftsman's decorative cunning. Still, his infatuation with erotic imagery and movement gives the stringy plotline -- the balance of married trapezists Emil Jannings and Lya De Putti is punctured when Warwick Ward, younger and more handsome, joins their carnival act -- dazzling curves. Reveling in the milieu's inherently photogenic tawdriness, Dupont and the great cameraman Karl Freund visualize everything, from atmosphere (isolated light glowing from within black blacks) to mental states (a sped-up lateral pan to evoke a cuckold's raging discovery) and even sound (a zoom into an ear dissolving into a close-up of sauntering feet). Equally startling is the movie's pre-Blue Angel, pre-The Naked Night intertwining of sexual intensity and showbiz wiles. During a curtain bow following a trapeze act, the patrons in the aisles, both male and female, pantingly ogle the fit bodies of the performers through binoculars, a reminder of the audience's complicity in the camera's natural fetishization of flesh. From a novel by Felix Hollaender. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce