To ensure a full profitable season, circus manager Brad Braden engages The Great Sebastian, though this moves his girlfriend Holly from her hard-won center trapeze spot. Holly and Sebastian begin a dangerous one-upmanship duel in the ring, while he pursues her on the ground.
***Delivers the goods for what it is — a big traditional circus flick***
Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus hires a popular Casanova trapeze artist, The Great Sabastian (Cornel Wilde), in order to keep their tour schedule full and he wastes no time romancing his rival for the center ring, Holly (Betty Hutton), who’s in love with the solemn manager (Charlton Heston). But, wait, Angel, the elephant babe (Gloria Grahame), is also in love with the boss man! Meanwhile, the resident clown has a secret past (Jimmy Stewart) and Dorothy Lamour is on hand as a performer.
A Cecil B. DeMille production, “The Greatest Show on Earth” (1952) is infamous for winning the Best Picture award above “High Noon” and “The Quiet Man” (and maybe also “Singin’ in the Rain,” which actually wasn’t a huge hit when it was released). I think these critics might be jealous, however, in light of the fact that “The Greatest Show on Earth” was hugely successful with audiences and made 4.5 times as much at the box office compared to “High Noon” and “The Quiet Man.”
How much a person appreciates this movie no doubt comes down to whether or not they like the traditional circus and everything that goes with it, but their approval will also rest on if they can appreciate quaint melodrama and the corresponding hammy acting (think “Gone with the Wind”). I was able to acclimate and really enjoyed the picture. There’s constant circus entertainment, of course, but the drama behind the scenes also hooks the viewer, over-the-top though it may be. There’s also an impressive train wreck in the last act. Underneath it all is a welcome warm heart.
Of the three women in the main cast, Betty Hutton is the fittest and has the most screen time, but Gloria Grahame is the most alluring, followed by Dorothy Lamour.
If you favor circus movies, like the great “Water for Elephants” (2011), you’ll probably appreciate this one, as long as you can adjust to the dated style.
The film runs 2 hours, 32 minutes, and was shot in Sarasota, Florida, and Paramount, Hollywood.
Paramount by Cecil B. DeMille, Fredric M. Frank, Barré Lyndon, Theodore St. John, Frank Cavett, Jack Gariss.
Stars: James Stewart, Charlton Heston, Betty Hutton, Cornel Wilde.
Genres: Drama, Family, Romance
Keywords: circus clown travelling circus trapeze artist
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