Come To the Circus
"The Greatest Show on Earth" won the 1952 Academy Award for Best Picture in 1952. Directed by Cecille B. DeMille, it is a lavish Hollywood spectacular, full of color, song, and dance over its two and one half hours. The film and its Best Picture award have had their critics over the years. I loved the movie. It deserved its recognition, even over a film as lasting and outstanding as "High Noon". Films like this simply aren't made anymore. Nor could one be.
"The Greatest Show on Earth" showcases the Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey Circus in 1951 with its troop of 1400 people and its animals. At the time, the Circus was still performing under the canvas big top. The circus gave its last show, in the late 1980s. The big top had long been abandoned. There is a sense of nostalgia in watching this film today that viewers at the time would not have felt but which might have been predicted.
The film has a long wandering plot with several stories about a rivalry and romance between trapeze artists, a clown with an unhappy past, a tough, dedicated circus manager or "boss man" played by Charlton Heston, and more. Some of the story is poignant. The major attraction of the film, however, is the circus itself. The movie captures the pace, the romance, and the hidden side of the wandering yet committed life of the circus performers as they literally give their lives to both the freedom and discipline of the circus.
The movie features trains, animals,the long nights of movement travelling from city to city, circus animals, clowns, dizzying trapeze artists, ringmasters, authentic circus acts, and broken and mended hearts. The many songs include the invitation to "Come to the Circus", with which "The Greatest Show on Earth" concludes. The movie is brassy, colorful and loud. During the circus performances, the film pans the audience for reactions of spectators, old and young. It offers a picture of a rostabout, seemingly footloose way of life which, like the Hollywood spectacular is no more.
In addition to Charlton Heston, the movie features Betty Hutton and Cornel Wilde as star trapeze artists and James Stewart as the laughing through tears Buttons the Clown. Lawrence Tierney his accustomed character role as the bad guy, the mobster Mr. Henderson. CecilleB. De Mille himself performs effectively in the voiceovers as the narrator. The named actors are all convincing but the heart of the film is with the men, women, and animals of the circus.
People tend to live their lives too seriously. "The Greatest Show on Earth" is a wonderful film that captures the lost world of fun, wandering, bands, and romance. I was glad to have the the opportunity to spend time with it.