61 of 63 people found the following review helpful
on January 1, 2005
Movie: **** DVD Quality: ***** DVD Extras: N/A
It almost seems that "The Greatest Show on Earth" would be more highly respected today if it had not won the Best Picture Oscar in 1952; reviewers often tend to compare its value to that of other films released the same year (especially "The Quiet Man", which won Best Director for John Ford and "Singin' in the Rain" which failed to secure a Best Picture nomination at all), and find TGSOE lacking. Such criticism is patently unfair. After all, whether it won as a fluke because the other nominees split the vote, or whether the Academy voters simply went for it in a big way, it isn't TGSOE's fault that it emerged the big winner - blame the Academy! And Oscar considerations aside, it's undeniable that TGSOE is exactly what its producers and director Cecil B. DeMille intended it to be: a great big, gaudy, colorful, lavish example of traditional storytelling and old-fashioned entertainment that would delight and thrill audiences while raking in piles of money at the box-office. On those terms, the film was - and still is - a stupendous success.
Certainly the movie features the cast of a lifetime interacting with actual circus personnel in this early "Circus of the Stars". In addition to top-billed Betty Hutton and Cornel Wilde (who actually performed many of their own acrobatic stunts), the players include Charlton Heston; Gloria Grahame; Dorothy Lamour; legendary clown Emmett Kelly; DeMille regulars Henry Wilcoxon and Julia Faye; Lyle Bettger; Lawrence Tierney; and, in a meaty supporting role, James Stewart. Countless big names also make cameo appearances or pop up in crowd scenes: watch for Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in the stands while "Road" series co-star Dorothy Lamour is singing; Edmond O'Brien; Hopalong Cassidy; and many more. The slim plot, concerning the behind-the-scenes operations of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, is secondary to the spectacle of the performers, animals, and roustabouts, but DeMille nonetheless throws in some torrid romance, a dash of mystery, a touch of tragedy ... and a mammoth train wreck! And all this was filmed in eye-popping three-strip Technicolor, making it a visual feast for the eyes.
The Paramount DVD offers a gorgeous film-to-video transfer that is wonderful to behold. The film is presented in its original "full-screen" aspect ratio (the widescreen CinemaScope process wouldn't make its debut for another year), and looks and sounds terrific. Highly recommended to those who enjoy star-filled extravaganzas and "old-fashioned" epic storytelling; anyone who ever dreamed of running away from home and joining the circus (and didn't most of us?) will especially enjoy this rousing entertainment.
109 of 117 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 2004
As a circus buff, I can't imagine anybody BUT C.B. De Mille having the scope of vision to do justice to a show deliberately created to be so big that one person simply can't take it all in, and the stories and subplots that abound under the biggest of the Big Tops. That said, I do have to wonder what on earth the Academy was thinking when they voted TGSOE the Oscar as Best Picture of 1952. That year saw the release of High Noon, Ivanhoe, The Quiet Man and Singin' In The Rain, any one of which could lay better claim to the title of Best Picture in terms of writing, plot and cinematography. Why did TGSOE win the Oscar?
I believe it is because the film was seen as a "last chance" vote for De Mille; particularly ironic given that C.B. received the Thalberg that year as well, and for the same reason: for creating and producing consistently high-quality movies. De Mille's best work was decades behind him when he filmed the 1951 edition of the Ringling Brothers - Barnum & Bailey Circus. The subplots, purple prose and some of the situations have more in common with the silent cinema spectacles for which De Mille is justly famed than they do with the realities of running a three-ring railroad circus plus midway under canvas on the road for an 8-month season.
One subplot almost derailed the production, in fact. From its beginnings, Ringling Brothers was renowned for running a totally honest show. Considering that at one point Ringling had been nicknamed 'the Sunday-School Show' for its total intolerance of grifters, pickpockets and thieves, the subplot involving a dishonest rival circus owner planting a team of con men on the show to run the midway's games of chance was about as welcome to the circus's management as a skunk at a picnic. There were rows between De Mille, Art Concello (Ringling's Director of Performance) and John Ringling North, the show's owner, over this plot until C.B. convinced them he needed the plot line to set up the climactic train wreck at the end of the movie. (Ringling's management didn't like THAT much either, because RB&BB hadn't had a train wreck since 1892!) However, the show extended itself even beyond their usual standard to accommodate the filming (Concello, a famous aerialist in his time, even gaffed The Great Sebastian's fall for De Mille) and despite the tensions engendered by the needs of two different forms of entertainment (there is a legend that C.B. got a royal chewing-out from Concello for moving the lighting around without asking so he could film better, which movement nearly caused a trapeze artist to fall because he couldn't see his catcher), the principal photgraphy was a marvelous chronicle of circus life, in and out of the ring.
The photography, in fact, is what makes The Greatest Show On Earth such an important picture. De Mille succeeded in capturing on film a way of life that even then was starting to die; John Ringling North would strike the Big Top for good midway through the 1956 season and convert his circus into an 'arena show.' Forget the corny subplots involving Brad Braden, Holly, Buttons the Clown and The Great Sebastian. Watch this movie in a documentary frame of mind and you will realize not just how important the circus used to be back before television brought the world into your living room, but the sense of wonder that has been lost from our faster-paced, wider-ranging lives. Glory in the music as well, much of it written for the movie or the 1951 Edition; Victor Young's "The Greatest Show On Earth March" instantly sets the circus scene just as well as Fucik's "Entry of the Gladiators" ever has. Remember that all the acts are doing their thing in real time, not with the help of a green screen and CGI; those are real people really risking their necks out there! (Oh yes: and that really IS Betty Hutton working on the single bar above Ring One. She was doubled for the sequences on the flying trapeze, but she learned and performed her own routines on the single bar. There is even an extant film clip of her being presented with an award from Photoplay Magazine by C.B. De Mille, who had to ride up on a camera crane to give it to her while she was rehearsing under the Big Top!)
We owe the great Cecil B. De Mille many thanks for the documenting of The Greatest Show On Earth at its peak. I personally believe this movie should rank high on the AFI 100 Greatest Movies List. However, as I've said, the best picture of 1952 it isn't, not by a long shot.
Even so, buy the DVD anyway and go to the circus again... and again... and again! "Bring the young'uns! Bring the old folks! Come again!"
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on April 10, 2002
"The Greatest Show on Earth" is probably Cecil B. DeMille's best sound film (sans the 1956 perennial "The Ten Commandments") since it is a film about showmanship. DeMille was cinema's greatest showman, whether his movie plots were historical, religious, dramatic, or just plain American 1950's hokum, such as this one. "The Greatest Show on Earth" succeeds at glorifying the lost art of the world's traveling circus when the circus was performed in tents, vs. the great arenas of today. DeMille's narration adds an air of authenticity to the proceedings, but the audience knows full well that this movie is a big show itself, which is low on the acting quality but big on the spectacle. Some of the matte shots and special effects show their age, especially the model train wreck which climaxes the film. Most fun of all is seeing Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in the circus audience watching their Paramount co-star Dorothy Lamour perform.
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on July 5, 2000
Some movies are classified as drama, others as comedy, some as adventure, some as romance. But "The Greatest Show On Earth" can be described in only one word: ENTERTAINMENT, for it is ALL of these things, and so much more... "Show" is a timeless film that all audiences ("children of all ages, and the old folks, too...") can enjoy... This superb Oscar winner for Best Picture has a fabulous cast and a great story. To open the new season of a circus show, a hard-nosed manager (Charlton Heston, in one of his first film roles) hires a French acrobat (Cornel Wilde, accent and all), to be the main attraction, ditching his girlfriend's (Betty Hutton, just great) chances for the center ring. What ensues is a battle for the spotlight between the two (and here we get to see Hutton and Wilde themselves doing some really incredible, breathtaking acrobatic stuntwork)... and a battle between Heston, Hutton, Wilde, and Gloria Grahame (as Wilde's ex-flame, now an elephant trainer) for each other's affections. As a side storyline, there is also a mysterious case involving Buttons, (Jimmy Stewart, likable as ever) a lovable clown... who never takes off his makeup or reveals his true identity. Cecil B. DeMille's "great" show is one you will always cherish, and one you will always be able to watch and be thoroughly entertained by the cavalcades of showcasing and stardust... er, sawdust.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on April 30, 2006
I loved this film. A lot of people who did like it said it was hokey and silly, but wonderful. I found it a little silly at times (especially with the romantic subplots...although I love Heston's "women are poison" line, then Grahame's responds "it's a wonderful way to die"), but for the most part, it's a wonderful film that really details how circus life unfolded. It has a documentary feel at times, because it really dives into how much of an endeavor it was to put on a show. The film also shows the actual circus acts almost in their entirety, not cut up in some stupid montage sequence you'd get in these times. The Technicolor photography is some of the most beautiful I've seen (wonderfully restored on this DVD), and the crowd scenes (DeMille's speciality) are superb. No CGI here, all the people are real, and all the acts are real. While there's probably stunt doubles for the leads, it's still real. The performances are top notch, especially Stewart (who is always in makeup), and Heston. Heston is a great actor, and he's constantly lampooned by current media personalities for being "hammy" and for his stance on guns (and other conservative issues). I think it's all BS. He's damn good in almost everything he does. Betty Hutton is gorgeous and shapely. Nice to see a time in Hollywood when you didn't have to be anoxeric to get a part or to be a star. Look close for Lawrence Tierney, who plays a rival of Heston's. Yes, it's that Tierney, who played Joe in Reservoir Dogs, 40 years later. The train wreck (done with minatures) is a bit awkward and silly, but the dramatic aftermath is well done. A superb piece of cinema from Mr. DeMille...
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on April 21, 2004
For a Best Picture winner, this surely won on the sheer bravado of Cecil B. DeMille. The legendary director provided the real Ringling Bros.-Barnum & Bailey circus and a bounty of stars in colorful roles for this tale of circus life and how "the show must go on" despite trauma and tragedy. Charlton Heston stars as Brad, the control-focused circus manager with an over-bubbly Betty Hutton as a trapeze star, Cornel Wilde (with a French accent) as "the Great Sebastian"-a rival trapeze star, Jimmy Stewart as "Buttons-a clown" who stays in makeup to hide from the police due to a scandal and tragedy of his own, and a gorgeous Gloria Grahame (who was hired when Lucille Ball couldn't do it) as the Elephant Girl---who will be in great danger from her sadistic partner. The Technicolor is awesome as are the gaudy costumes but it's the dialogue that's really colorful---I guess "purple prose" might describe it but even that phrase pales in comparison to what comes out of the actor's mouths. This is VERY ripe melodrama set against a wonderful (and real) circus background and you are treated to some admittedly great sights---particularly an incredible trainwreck. The actor's do their best and there are some wonderful guest stars and cameos like Dorothy Lamour as a circus entertainer, and some real surprises I can't reveal. So for pure Hollywood spectacle and some of the corniest dialogue and situations ever created see "The Greatest Show on Earth" and thank Hollywood for treats like this. And by the way, Gloria Grahame did NOT win Best Supporting Actress for this, she won the same year for "The Bad and the Beautiful".
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
The oddest thing about the picture is the way James Stewart is given almost a supporting role, at a time in his career when he was at his height, able to "open" a picture just by taking the leading man roles, and his work with Anthony Mann, etc., was about to open a new series of dramatic parts for him. Maybe "Buttons" was a warm-up to the heavier Mann parts or Scottie in Vertigo or Anatomy of a Murder, who knows? Otherwise I believe De Mille must have had some compromising photos of James Stewart, for otherwise I can't figure out why he would want to play Buttons. Unless maybe after the arch silliness of HARVEY Stewart wanted a change of pace, but anyhow, to see him play this part is to die a little inside.
Outside of that, Heston is suitably grim and fit as the circus boss, his line readings made of steel; Betty Hutton is a little over the hill but she's game, just the way we like her; no French actors were available so De MIlle hired Cornel Wilde for the part of the Great Sebastian; Gloria Grahame is pretty sexy given that weird looking face, and Dorothy Lamour seems to be playing Gloria Grahame's other half. Imagine having both of them in the same movie, must have been to get the Dads in, cause you know the kids went wild over this movie.
Not good enough for a BEST PICTURE? Well it's miles better than CHARIOTS OF FIRE or A BEAUTIFUL MIND.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on April 6, 2004
For the first time on DVD Paramount Pictures brings us Cecil B. DeMille's "The Greatest Show on Earth". 1952's biggest box office hit and Oscar Winner for BEST PICTURE. This film has been digitally restored (picture & sound) and presented in beautiful TECHNICOLOR in Standard Format (before WideScreen). There are no Extra Features with this DVD. The picture alone is worth the price of addmission!!!!!!!
Why so popular picture in 1952? Director DeMille captured America's heart by a very behind the scenes, up-close life of the circus in eye popping TECHNICOLOR!!!! Every child dreamed of running away to join the circus. Families couldn't wait for their annual visit to the Big Top. The 1950's was about family, fun and entertainment.
Ringling Brothers - Barnum & Baily Circus was known as "The Greatest Show on Earth" so they joined Hollywood, DeMille and an ALL-STAR cast; Charlton Heston (first major starring role), Betty Hutton (trained for months to due many of her own aerial stunts), Jimmy Stewart (as Buttons the Clown), Cornel Wilde, Dorthy Lamour (from the Hope & Crosby Road Pictures) and Gloria Grahame to give us a taste of the circus magic. Filmed in gorgeous TECHNICOLOR this film is pure eye candy fun. Demille shows us all these colorful characters and the massive circus army that supports them. How hundreds of circus personell and their exotic animals live the circus life. Saw dust in their veins they entertain us twice a day rain or shine. This is fun stuff.
Never mind the story and the Hollywood corniness. Enjoy this brief colorful journey into the world of the canvas tent circus. A must have movie for your family DVD library. Revisit the era of the circus under the "BIG TOP". Let the kids see & experience the days gone by and relive the fun of "THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH". Enjoy!
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on September 25, 2009
The 1952 Best Picture Oscar went to Cecil B. DeMille's The Greatest Show on Earth, a whopping piece of movie-making. Chock full of colorful costumes, daring stunts, delightful songs, pageantry and a legendary train wreck sequence, the picture is about as fun as a movie can be.
If you want a good idea of what "stars" were in the 1950s, all you have to do is watch The Greatest Show on Earth. Betty Hutton is top-billed as Holly, a trapeze artist with a larger than life personality. Her boyfriend, Brad (Charlton Heston) is manager at Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey, who puts the circus above his girlfriend when push comes to shove. This leads to his hiring world-famous trapeze artist Sebastian (Cornel Wilde) to draw crowds and prevent bankrupcy, even though it means Holly will be pushed out of the center ring.
In an effort to make Brad jealous, and partially due to Sebastian's charismatic charm, Holly begins flirting with the famous star. The two also consistently try to one-up each other with their dare-devil trapeze acts, which leads to some very suspensful sequences.
Dorothy Lamour plays the beautiful "Iron Jaw" Phyllis, who's signature act is swinging by her teeth high above the circus floor. Gloria Grahame has a great role, too, playing Angel, who works with the obsessive elephant trainer, Klaus (Lyle Bettger), who is in love with her.
The best performance in the film, arguably, is that of Jimmy Stewart, who plays a clown named Buttons. Mysteriously, he is never seen without his makeup, even when the show is over. A former doctor who is hiding in the circus after euthanizing his wife who was suffering from a horrible disease, Buttons is one of the most memorable characters from this era of filmmaking.
Cecil B. DeMille, one of Hollywood's most legendary directors, created a masterpiece with this film. He began his career at the dawn of Hollywood's silent age, and all these years later, he proved that he was able to adapt and still create impressive pictures.
Perhaps most intriguing, though, is the backstage glimpse we get of the work behind the massive circus, as the film was produced with the full cooperation of Ringling Brother and Barnum & Bailey. Literally dozens of real circus performers populate the film and make for a fascinating view of circus life.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 2004
Yes, this movie IS flapdoodle as the critic says, but shouldn't we all have a few truly silly movies we adore anyway? If you loved this film when you were a kid, you'll still love it now, at least I did. The new DVD release is a huge improvement over the VHS version, with excellent color and clarity. I was amazed at how good the train wreck looked. Awesome model work from the days before CGI!