APPEARANCES ON LIVE Television such as TOAST OF THE TOWN (the ED SULLIVAN SHOW), WHAT'S MY LINE? and OMNIBUS were common place. Additionally, we boomer kids were familiar with his work as Hollywood Hero in stalwart popcorn fare as the Cliff-Hanger Serials as THE LOST JUNGLE*(Mascot Pictures, 1934) and DARKEST Africa (Republic Pictures, 1936). Added to this list we add the Abbott & Costello feature, Africa SCREAMS (Huntington Hartford Prod./Nassour Studiod/United Artists, 1949); in which he shared billing with 'Bing 'Em Back Alive'himself, Frank Buck, with support from Hillary Brooke, Shemp Howard, Joe Besser, Max & Buddy Baer and Burton Wentland as 'Bobo'.
MUCH TO OUR pleasant surprise, we have recently 'discovered' today's film honoree, THE BIG CAGE (Universal, 1933). It was Mr. Clyde Beatty's first movie role; one in which he portrayed himself, a role to which he would be type-cast!
FURTHERMORE, TO OUR astonishment, the film was based on Clyde's own book of the same title; doubtless being a very loose and distant correlation, possibly only being in the Title THE BIG CAGE and in Mr. Beatty's own given name and surname.
AS FOR THE film, THE BIG CAGE was a sort of variation on the old "gotta save the old folks' farm from bein' foreclosed" plot. In this case, it's a Circus featuring Mr. Beatty's Big Cat Act that's been operating in the red. Add a nervous Banker (1930's version of bean counters or "the $uit$", treachery from the outside and a couple of 'has been' performers (the redeemed coward, Wallace Reid and the failed alcoholic, Raymond Hatton).
WHILE ON THE subject of Mr. Raymond Hatton, we must give particular notice to his performance here. Having seen him many times in films of varying budgetary types. He was in many a Western, even a regular for a while in the THREE MESQUITERS Series. But after seeing him as varied saddle-tramps, old-timers and colorful codger-prospectors, we were really impressed with the range he displayed as Timothy O'Hara, hopelessly alcoholic father of young Jimmy (Mickey Rooney). We must confess that we really did not recognize him at first; even though his name is credited in the cast.
ROUNDING OUT THE ingredients we have Andy Devine & Vince Barnett for comic relief as roustabouts 'Scoops' & 'Soupmeat; being somewhat in the Laurel & Hardy 'Plump & Runt' tradition. The pair really hadn't much else to do with the story other than to break up any lengthy periods of pathos and to 'leave 'em laughing'.
NO CIRCUS STORY would be complete without a kids' point of view and this is no exception. Young 12 year old Joe Yule, Jr. appeared as the eventually orphaned Jimmy O'Hara; who gets adopted by Clyde. (Remember him, Schultz? We all know him better as Mickey Rooney!)
INSPITE OF BEING old hatted and dated, THE BIG CAGE has a lot to recommend it to a modern film buff. For all of its seeming clichés, the hero does not get the girl in the end. The romance is between Anita Page and Wallace Ford. Next, it features some of the most extensive and exciting Big Cat Act footage in film history. Lastly, Mr. Clyde Beatty is a very fine subject to be the hero. Incidentally, he does a pretty doggone good job in his first screen role! (Hell man, it must have been a piece of cake compared to working the cage with Lions, Tigers and Hyeenas!)**
NOTE:*Mascot (who would become merged into the new Republic Pictures the following year) also released an abridged feature version.
NOTE:** The sum of Clyde Beatty's work (mostly the earlier)makes a fine record about the filming of wild animals; especially when added to the work of colleague, Frank Buck and the great original Safari Film couple, Martin & Osa Johnson!