Ambrose Wolfinger (W.C. Fields) is surreptitiously partaking of alcohol in his bathroom while his wife (Kathleen Howard) orders him to come to bed and switch the light off so she can get some sleep. He calls back that he's brushing his teeth as he enjoys another swig, but eventually has to return to the bedroom and prepare for bed. As his wife implores him to hurry up, Ambrose makes a meal of taking off his socks, blowing into them and rolling them up, and by the time he's under the covers and ready to drop off, his wife hears the strains of a popular song. This is because their basement has been infiltrated by two burglars who are helping themselves to Ambrose's barrels of applejack, and are now singing nostalgically. It's up to Ambrose to see them off...
What has the title Man on the Flying Trapeze to do with the film? Absolutely nothing as far as anyone could see, as there's no circus act involved and Fields doesn't even demonstrate his juggling skills. Yet it fits nicely with the ridiculous humour that was its star's trademark, based on a story by him and Sam Hardy, and is interesting for being the only film he directed by himself after taking over from original director Clyde Bruckman (a name familiar to X-Files fans) after the unfortunate man's problems with the demon drink that scuppered his career. Nevertheless, Bruckman received sole credit.
As for the plot, well, you didn't expect a plot, did you? It's the usual Fields nonsense that makes up his starring roles with a henpecked husband the victim of a steadily accumulating incidents that all verge strongly on the ludicrous. All he wants is a little drink (or ten), but naturally he lives not only with his overbearing wife but also her tyrannically teetotal mother (Vera Lewis) and he can do no right in their eyes. Enjoying his discomfort is his brother-in-law (regular support Grady Sutton), a layabout who has stolen Ambrose's tickets to the wrestling match while Ambrose was in jail.
Why was he in jail? That would be because he'd been making applejack without a permit and was rumbled when he took the burglars to the courthouse accompanied by the arresting officer (who had also been drinking and singing when gun-toting Ambrose found them by crashing through the basement door and tumbling down the steps). Joyous in its unpredictability, Man on the Flying Trapeze is a string of sketches with, say, Ambrose demonstrating his own wrestling skills and ending up flung arse over tit to land on his head, or being written three parking tickets in three minutes and all because he was asked to pull over for no reason by a traffic cop. Needless to say, there are some very funny moments here, and Ambrose is notable as a Fields character who gets a doting daughter (Mary Brian) to soothe his crushed spirit. It doesn't quite hit the delirium of his true classics, but hilarity is at least guaranteed.