Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Here's Your Monocle

I recorded a TCM showing of THREE RING CIRCUS and watched some of it last night. I am pleased to tell you about the villain of the piece (pictured), Puffo the Wonder Clown. First of all I am pleased to tell you that his name is Puffo the Wonder Clown. He is addressed often. "You're drunk, Puffo." And, when he is fired from the circus, "Draw your money, Puffo." I cannot explain the pleasure such sentences gave me. "Puffo, he's stealing your thunder!" says another clown, referring to Jerry Lewis. So later Puffo goes out there and kicks Jerry Lewis in the behind and jumps up and down on him. The circus audience turns on Puffo! And I must say I was surprised because it seemed like regular clown business to me. I'm not sure what clued in the audience that Puffo really meant it. Clowns are always brutalizing one another for our amusement, and we thank them for it. But one little girl jumps up and yells, "Stop it! You're killing him!" I may be paraphrasing. After Puffo nearly murders Jerry in the ring (I guess - as I say, it was difficult to distinguish from everyday clown violence), Jerry says in his saintly mewl, "Here's your monocle. I'm not mad, Puffo." You see, Puffo had dropped his monocle in the sawdust to get Jerry to bend over. You know how it is. Oh, Puffo. I am not sure I can rightly call Puffo a sad clown, though he is certainly a bitter clown. Jerry - who tinkered a lot with the script of this famously troubled production - seems interested in rage-filled clowns. Think of the snarling clown who hates America in his film THE FAMILY JEWELS. Think of him, I said! And of course drunken clowns are a national treasure by any standard. Puffo is a mean drunk, as opposed to the garden-variety sniveling of a typical drunken clown like Twitchy, who meets his sad end at the hands of a psychopath in the Mickey Spillane circus thriller RING OF FEAR, but I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. Will you mind very much if we stop talking about clowns for a second? In a subplot, Dean Martin falls under the spell of Zsa Zsa Gabor as the haughty queen of the circus. And I had never really thought about it, but that's a common story element, isn't it? The beauteous, dominant circus woman? I think of Steve Martin in THE JERK (its title an homage to Lewis's THE PATSY?), in the thrall of the sexy motorcycle daredevil who pushes him around. In conclusion, I cannot justify Puffo's honorific. At no point in the film are we given any indication that he is, in fact, a "wonder clown" of any kind.