The Greatest Show on Earth was yet another gaping hole in my classic film viewing. After seeing Singing in the Rain and aghast that it hadn’t won Best Picture, I decided now was the time to see what was victor. And TGSOE was the 1952 Oscar winning film directed by Cecil B. DeMille.
At over two and a half hours long, it’s easy to believe this was group effort writing, three in fact: Fredric Frank, Barre Lyndon, and Theodore St. John (Ten Commandments fame).
Cinematographer George Barnes won the Golden Globe (Oscar for Rebecca) and also worked with Hitchcock’s Spellbound.
As for Floridian history, while the story is fictional, the film definitely gives you a taste for circus life. And let me throw out an analogy which may be original; the circus was the internet before the internet, meaning there were animals, clowns and freaks (tic toc) combined with the Olympics (amazing athletic stunt people). The scene was so busy it was like looking at the Youtube channel with a lion tamer ‘in the sidebar’, an A.D.D. person’s heaven. These days the actual circus looks nuts and the cost of putting it on and moving it town to town had to be astronomical.
But I digress…the film really picks up steam in the last act. The first half, on the other hand, was pretty over acted (Dorothy Hutton, head shake) and blase`, a great film for Mystery Science Theater to have a shin dig with…and speaking of old adages, one thing I truly enjoyed were the corny lines and double entendres; Charlton Heston exclaiming “Judas Priest!”, Dorothy Lamour sighing, ‘in more ways than one” about making her hair wet, Gloria Grahame filling Heston’s pipe…
All that being said, while I appreciate the intricate plot and totally respect a climactic scene towards the end, this did not have the sincerity or depth that Singing in the Rain had. Spectacle does not equal depth. And while the first half was downright demoralizing for Jimmy Stewart (as Buttons the clown-chagrin face), at least the writer’s had an intricate back story to make the part somewhat respectable in the end.