Gambini the Great

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Drama/Family/Romance/Western, 1981

Synopsis Daredevil Rudolpho Gambini is the headlining act for a traveling circus; his signature act is the "burning box," wherein bound and chained, he attempts to escape a burning coffin before being overcome by smoke and flames. However, the aging Gambini (aka Gambini the Great) no longer has the skills to escape the box as he once did; circus workers are forced to rescue Gambini. At the hospital, Gambini angrily rejects his family's plea to retire; when eldest son Stefano announces his intention to seek an education (rather than carry on the generations-old circus show), the elder Gambini tells him to get out. Younger son Marco keeps silent, but confides in Stefano that he too has no desire to be a circus performer. Weeks later, a fully recovered Gambini and his entourage arrive in Walnut Grove for a series of performances; Mrs. Olesen is the promoter and gleefully welcomes the show to town. After school, the children watch the Gambinis rehearse their act and the children are awestruck at Gambini's daring feats ... especially Albert, who vows to be just like Gambini. Nels and Charles share mutual concerns when they hear one of the farmers remark about how the stunts will be even better when they do them without safety nets, then forbid their children to go to the upcoming shows. However, Albert begins neglecting his schoolwork and chores and starts devoting his time to replicating Gambini's stunts; Charles is very angry when he learns that Albert performed an underwater escape act. Albert, by now his desire to be a doctor becoming more firm, says he doesn't plan to be injured, which makes Charles even more irate. Meanwhile, Willie attempts the "cannonman" act with Nancy's cat, Pepper, but nearly blows up the Mercantile instead. Later, Nels forbids Nancy to take a coveted announcer's job at the circus, but of course Mrs. Olesen undermines him by making Nancy a darling little cape to wear for the occasion. In the end, both Albert and Nancy sneak off to the circus ... and they and the other fans witness tragedy. Gambini tries his "burning box" stunt but again is unable to escape, and this time, he is killed by the flames. Charles accompanies Albert to Gambini's funeral, where after the service he tells him that real heroes are people like Dr. Baker. Albert agrees and reconfirms his desire to be a doctor.

Directed by Michael Landon  

Starring Michael Landon, Karen Grassle, Melissa Gilbert, Lindsay Greenbush, Sidney Greenbush, more...

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