Polly (Marion Davies) is an aerialist in the circus, the starring act of the show. When her circus heads to a new town, she finds that the posters advertising her act have been covered up due to her bare-legged costume.

(Image via Movie Poster Shop)
(Image via Movie Poster Shop)

Outraged, Polly assumes that the cover-ups are the work of Reverend John Hartley (Clark Gable), so she decides to confront him. He proclaims his innocence, and attends the circus that night.

While preparing to perform, Polly is heckled by someone in the crowd asking her where her “pants” (the coverings from the posters) have gone. Distracted, she falls from the trapeze bars and is taken to John’s house, where she can recover under the watchful eye of a doctor.

Will unlikely love be found between a man of God and a woman of the air? Polly of the Circus, directed by Alfred Santell, tells the tale.

I was a bit skeptical of Polly of the Circus when I decided to give it a viewing on WatchTCM. Clark Gable as a reverend?! I thought it would be difficult to buy him in such a role, but surprisingly, he does quite well. Davies, for her part, is outspoken and full of sass as Polly.

The two share some peppy pre-code dialogue (pre-code in pace and rhythm rather than in content), though as a couple their chemistry seems very artificial. Their performances are both effective overall, but as a pair, they just don’t sizzle. Marion’s performance individually is very energetic, which luckily helps keep the film afloat.

Davies and Gable -- not quite the dream team, more impressive in 'Cain and Mabel' than 'Polly of the Circus' (Image via toutlecine.com)
Davies and Gable — not quite the dream team, slightly more impressive in ‘Cain and Mabel’ (rated 3/5 by TMP in 2012) than in ‘Polly of the Circus’ (Image via toutlecine.com)

The film takes several turns to melodrama as it progresses, particularly within the final twenty minutes or so of action. The drama gets a bit silly at times. For instance, Polly criticizes John for wanting to continue his work within the church, because the church doesn’t approve of her profession… but she knew very well that John was a reverend, devoted to God and to his job, when they met. It seems ridiculous for her to cause trouble over such an issue, though the viewer can sympathize with her defensiveness toward the church’s unfair judgment of her.

Despite its issues and over-dramatics, Polly of the Circus does a pretty good job of holding onto the viewer’s attention. It works best if viewed by a Davies fan, as a Davies vehicle. The score: 2/5