Thatcher Colt (Adolphe Menjou) is the Police Commissioner of New York City. After a long period of fighting crime Colt decides he needs a vacation. Throwing a dart at a map he elects to spend a couple weeks in the town of Gilead, New York. Since he never does anything without his loyal secretary Miss Kelly (Ruthelma Steven) he has her book two train tickets to the quiet town.
When they arrive at Gilead they find that “The Greater John T. Rainey Shows” circus is also in Gilead. Then they run into Jim Dugan (Harry Holman). Dugan is a press agent and is there promoting the circus. Dugan and Colt have known each other for years so Dugan gives Colt and Kelly tickets for the show.
The main stars of the big top are The Great Sebastian (Donald Cook), Jose La Tour (Greta Nissen) and Josie’s husband Flandrin (Dwight Frye). Josie is trying to get a divorce from Flandrin so she can be with Sebastian but Flandrin is an obsessive evil man who would rather see his wife, and her lover, dead than lose her. During the parade Josie’s horse gets spooked.
Dugan says there have been strange things going on at the circus and asks Colt to talk to the owner John Rainey (George Rosener) and give him some advice on how to handle it. Rainey tells Colt that the main stars of the show got cryptic notes telling them not to perform. Colt believes everything is a publicity stunt. Kelly has been practicing reading lips. She tells Colt that Flandrin caused Josie’s horse to bolt but before that he whispered to her “You double crossing cheat, I’ll kill the both of you.” When Colt goes to talk to Flandrin they can’t find him. There is a bullet hole in a window and blood in his wagon. They also find a note that says he was the first to go. It appears that he was murdered but there is no body. Colt’s investigation has just begun. There are two more people who are prime to be murdered, Sebastian and Josie.
“The Circus Queen Murder” was released in 1933 and was directed by Roy William Neill. It is an American pre-code murder mystery. It is a sequel to “The Night Club Lady” 1932 and was based on a story in Liberty magazine written by Fulton Oursler.
Most of the clowns and other circus acts that appear in the film were members of the Al G. Barnes Circus, based in California. The name of the circus was chosen so they could use sets and stock footage from a Frank Capra’s film “Rain or Shine” 1930.
It's not a bad little film. There isn’t a lot of plot or a lot of mystery but at slightly more than an hour it doesn’t have a chance to get too deep. Basically it is a typical low budget “B” movie from the thirties. The acting is decent. Adolphe Menjou is amusing and Ruthelma Stevens is cute. The highlight, of course, is Dwight Frye as the homicidal husband. He’s very good at deranged. Other than that it was an average film.