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Ugh, I'll just say it, The Greatest Show on Earth is possibly the worst Best Picture winner in this list. There really isn't much of a story in this one, unless you count the love triangle between a French trapeze artist, The Great Sebastian (Cornel Wilde), Holly, another trapeze artist (Betty Hutton), and Brad, the circus manager (Charlton Heston). The first two thirds of this movie is completely padded with circus acts, parades, and that boring romance subplot. Some of the acts are fine, then again Cecil B. DeMille hired real Ringling Bros performers for them, but, when the Hollywood actors are roped in, the effect is ruined by the obvious stunt doubles and laughably outdated composite shots. Speaking of, I'm sure the green screen effects were limited for the time, but DAAAMMMNNN when they look lame, they look REALLY lame! The best part of all of this is Buttons the Clown (Jimmy Stewart), only because of his backstory. He was a doctor who disguised himself as a clown to evade the authorities after murdering his wife. It almost makes you wish the movie was about him half the time. Although I appreciate Cecil B. DeMille's ever-impressive and epic ambitions, The Greatest Show on Earth is not one of his greatest shows on Earth. Just skip this one and take your kids to an actual circus.
(1 ½ Overblown Model Train Accidents out of 5)
Not much to it but it is sure long.
The controversy surrounding this films Best Picture win is insane, but totally understandable. The political situation, the director's legacy, the concept of what a ‘great film' is. These things have changed significantly since 1952, and so looking back it's hard to disconnect the movie from the world around it. At 2 and a half hours it's definitely way too long, and that can be largely blamed on what the films tries to push the most: spectacle. The film is a visual marvel, and its staggering to think how long it would have taken to create all the costumes, obtain all the equipment, train all the performers and assemble everything into a feature film. The movie is all about dazzling the audience with its visual flair and presentation, and several elements suffer as a result. The love triangle jumps about abruptly because we don't get to spend enough time watching the characters interact. It doesn't have much of a structure besides one grand show following the next, and the next, and the next. The circus performance start off fun but get progressively more tedious as it seems the movie is just padding its runtime. Jimmy Stewart, barely recognisable under makeup, has probably the closest thing to a character arc, and it's practically impossible to hate a character played by Stewart. If nothing else, the film is a time capsule of Hollywood in the early 50s. Its full of grandeur, big name stars and beautiful to look at, but when the credits role, you'll be left wondering if it was worth the 150 minutes it took to get to that point.
The cinema equivalent of cotton candy - big, colorful, fluffy, and when you apply any pressure to it at all you can watch it collapse. I also hate cotton candy. The story is unengaging and the performances hardly count as anything special, but that may be more due to the writing than casting. At two and a half hours, how they managed to stuff so much hot air into this behemoth and receive contemporary critical praise is anyone's guess. One of the absolute worst films to win top honors apart from some of the initial early stumbles out of the gate at the Oscars. The sole redeeming feature is the grand visual design, which is more interesting as a chronicle of the circus in its prime than any sort of film element. (2/5)
Made between two Biblical epics, Cecil B. DeMille's penultimate film is a bit of an oddity. The Greatest Show on Earth is about an American railroad circus and it is as much a tribute to such circuses as it is a story about one. With all the extravagance and spectacle one expects from DeMille's later sound films, it sees him explore the showmanship of circuses via the showmanship of his own style of film-making, but it does so at the expense of characterisation and plot.
The story focuses on the circus run by one Brad Braden and the challenges he faces as he struggles to keep it profitable. DeMille's opening monologue sets the tone, describing the behind the scenes discipline required to make the circus a success and all the danger that performing in the ring entails. DeMille seems as interested in the nuts-and-bolts logistics of railroad circuses, as Brad both transports his vast number of performers, huge menagerie of animals and tonnes of equipment across the country, and organises the circus members as they set up the big tops and equipment ready for to receive an audience.
I've never been especially interested in circuses, but the result is quite fascinating. The film is a snapshot of a bygone era: circuses still exist and many still have performing animals, but probably not on this scale. Braden's circus is a vast travelling community as the film unfolds he has to deal with FBI agents, gangsters, criminals, relationships and accidents. The film is nearly two and a half hours long and part of its bloated length is due to the fact that there are often very long scenes of actual performances; sometime, these form part of the story, such as when trapeze artists Sebastian and Holly are competing against one another, but at times DeMille is clearly just showing off the real-life circus performances and animals he recruited to the production. But then, in a film that celebrates the circus, this isn't perhaps inappropriate. It's a ridiculously lavish production and it's all about the spectacle, just like Braden's circus itself.
In the midst of all this extravagance, the story focuses on a small group of characters, including Brad himself, his girlfriend Holly, her would-be suitor the Great Sebastian, and the mysterious clown Buttons. With so much time devoted to the circus acts, the characters are out of necessity barely sketched, although they work well enough, mainly due to the performances: Charlton Heston is surprisingly good as Brad, giving a commanding and charismatic performance in the role, whilst Cornel Wilde and Betty Hutton convince as Sebastian and Holly. James Stewart, barely recognisable behind Button's make-up until his familiar voice is heard, quietly steals the show as the wise clown who turns out to have a dark secret. Most of the character development takes place in the second half, and includes the relationship between circus members Angel and Klaus, the latter of whom inadvertently causes the famous train wreck that is perhaps the film's most impressive technical achievement.
The film won two Academy Awards, one for Best Picture and one for Best Story: the former I can understand, given how impressive a technical achievement it is, although the latter award is more of a mystery, since the story is barely adequate for a film half the length. Moreover, the screenplay suffers from some horrible and often melodramatic dialogue, for example during Brad's argument with Holly and later when Holly argues with Sebastian after he returns with a crippled arm. And just as the characters are fairly one-dimensional, the relationships are all quite superficial too, with Sebastian and Angel philosophically deciding to marry after Holly and Brad end up together.
DeMille is a director often neglected by critics, as though his colossal financial success somehow sullied any artistic achievements he might be considered to have made. But above all else, he was a showman and whatever flaws it may have, in its celebration of one of the performing arts The Greatest Show on Earth demonstrates that perfectly.
1953's Oscar winning Best Picture is "The Greatest Show on Earth", directed by Cecil B. DeMille. It's a big spectacle film filled with a large roster of celebrities of the day.
The movie follows a traveling circus that appears to employ more people than a small city, but centers in on about 10 of them. About 120 minutes of this 152 minute film is spent showing off various circus acts, animals and costumes and these moments are accompanied by some overly sensational documentary style voice-overs by Mr. DeMille.
The remaining time attempts to weave several paper-thin and unimaginative plot threads into a story. Charlton Heston's overacting would certainly be of appeal to any William Shatner Star Trek fan. Betty Hutton is way too overly exuberant and boy crazy for a woman of her age. Dorothy Lamour has one characteristic, she's dumb. Cornel Wilde is an insufferable and suave womanizer because he's French apparently. Jimmy Stewart does what he can with a small role intended to bring mystery to the film. The only actor of any depth who lends a tiny bit of credibility to this motion picture is Gloria Grahame as Angel. Oh, and just for your added enjoyment, there's some singing too.
About 23 minutes before the movie ends, the film presents its first somewhat unexpected and interesting plot twist. There is a train wreck. It almost seemed too fitting, given that this is a perfect metaphor for the movie itself, a huge train wreck.
It has some entertainment value with the huge stages and production of the circus. The acting is not great and the story is more like a documentary with little drama of the characters to actually engage. The train crash isn't very effectively done but does give the film its most interest after the crash. The running length is too long and at times i was bored and not caring of the characters. Winning the best picture Oscar does feel wrong here with many great films nominated. Charlton Heston and Jimmy Stewart are there but they cant make this feel any better with the script they are given. The lengthy performing acts out stay there welcome and the film does feel like a time and place.
Cecil B. DeMille's overlong Big Top epic teeters between mediocre circus melodrama and unnecessary documentary. An excellent cast, featuring Charlton Heston, Betty Hutton, Cornel Wilde, Jimmy Stewart, Dorothy Lamour and Gloria Grahame, could've used a better script to work with. Pointlessly long behind-the-scenes sequences (complete with narration) focusing on circus life might have been interesting to audiences in 1952 but feel a dated by today's standards and only serves to disjoint and drag down the film's pacing. If you have spare time to kill watch it for the great cast but otherwise skip it.
Even if I acknowledge the film's ambition, the result is just not very good. The already simple storyline and the characters' intentions are constantly explained through dialogue the way it's done in (mediocre) children's films, something I feel slightly offended by being an adult viewer. The only decent aspect I can find in this production are some well-shot circus acts and a reasonably good depiction of the tension under the big top.
A very entertained classic.