Bruno Everard, the mercenary, power-mad owner of a traveling German circus, exploits everyone, including his family of four sons and a daughter, all of whom are trained performers. His oldest son, Klaus, who has always resented his father's obvious preference for the younger and more talented Josef, tries to endear himself to Bruno by marrying Teresa Vizzini, the daughter of a menagerie owner with whom Bruno has long wished to merge. In so doing Klaus infuriates young Carlotta Martinez, an aerialist whom he had promised to marry. Meanwhile, Josef has fallen in love with a wealthy American, Hillary Allen, but when she asks him to abandon the circus and return to the United States as her business manager, Josef breaks off the romance. At the same time, Bruno's daughter, Garda, defies her father by marrying an American soldier, Eric Solden. Eventually Teresa realizes that Klaus married her only to gain control of her father's menagerie. Overcome by despair, she commits suicide by allowing herself to be mauled in a polar bear act. Shortly thereafter, Carlotta is seriously injured in a high wire accident. When she charges Bruno with negligence, Josef assumes full responsibility for the faulty equipment and is sentenced to a prison term. While he is away the other children renounce their father and take the circus away from him. The old man tries to make a comeback but suffers a fatal heart attack while performing on an outdoor trapeze. When Josef is released from prison, he turns on his brothers, blaming them for their father's death. Klaus tries to knife Josef but is himself killed by the same polar bear that took Teresa's life. The tragedy has a sobering effect upon the remaining members of the family, and they decide to reorganize the family circus. At last, Hillary agrees to marry Josef on his terms.