Cast & Crew
In the early 1920's, Sara Post struggles to keep the circus that she and her late husband started many years before. They are nearly broke, but her loyal employees promise to stay with her. As Sara's troubles continue, she learns that her sister has died, leaving her young daughter Penny to Sara. Little Penny gets a bad first impression when handyman Joe brings her to the circus, just as Sara is yelling orders. Although Sara is touched by the child, she cannot bring herself to show her affection. When Penny's play with matches ignites a fire that destroys the circus, Sara's luck turns for the better, as no one is hurt and she now can collect on a large insurance policy. Many years later, Penny has grown into a beautiful young woman whose abilities as an aerialist have enabled the rebuilt circus to prosper. She still finds Sara difficult to come close to, however, even though Joe and the others realize how much Sara loves her niece. Penny's partners in her act, called "The Three Flying Pennies," are brothers Pablo and Ricardo LeGrande who both want Penny to leave with them and start a new act in Europe. She is hesitant, but when Sara starts an argument with them over a change in the act and fires the brothers, Penny again feels unloved. Pablo proposes to Penny and they leave, awaiting a booking in Europe before they marry. When Penny reads in the newspaper about new financial problems for Sara's circus, she decides to return to help with Pablo and Ricardo. Recently, however, Ricardo, who also is in love with Penny, has begun to drink. When they return to the circus, he is in no condition to perform, but when Penny learns from Joe that Sara has had a heart attack, she convinces him to do the act. During the performance, Ricardo falls and is very seriously injured. Just before he goes to the hospital, he tells Sara that he did it for Penny. Realizing their love for each other, Sara and Penny reconcile as Pablo accompanies his brother to the hospital.
Charles J. Bigelow
Scott R. Dunlap
W. B. Eason
E. R. Hickson
The pre-release title of this film was The Circus Comes to Town. It is possible that the project was also known as either Circus Girl or Circus Lady in 1937. According to a news item in Hollywood Reporter on May 12, 1937, writer Marion Orth filed a suit against Republic Pictures for making and releasing a film under the title Circus Girl, claiming that she had approached Republic about making a film adaptation of a novel she had published in England bearing the same title. The outcome of that suit has not been ascertained; however, in the news item Orth was said to be working on a screenplay based on her novel for Monogram. All sources for the picture Under the Big Top indicate that Orth wrote the screenplay based on an original story by Lewellyn Hughes, thus it is possible that the screenplay on which Orth was said to be working for Monogram in mid-1937 was not produced.
Two news items in Hollywood Reporter in mid-June 1938 noted that William Lackey's first assignment as a Monogram associate producer would be a film entitled The Girl from Nowhere starring Anne Nagel. The film was to be produced by Scott R. Dunlap, based on a screenplay by Dunlap and Arthur Fitz-Richard, and was to start production in two weeks. It is possible that Under the Big Top is the same film as The Girl from Nowhere, despite the different writers credited, as it is the first Lackey film for Monogram, it was produced under Dunlap's aegis, and began production in early July 1938. Should a Girl Marry?, a film produced by Crescent Pictures for Monogram release in June 1939, also starred Nagel and was reviewed in Motion Picture Herald as Girl from Nowhere. Aside from Nagel, none of the other persons mentioned in the June 1938 news items are the same as the 1939 film, and it is possible that the title The Girl from Nowhere was simply used again for an unrelated project.