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The Greatest Show on Earth Movie Review

circus mille brad cecil

1952 – Cecil B. De Mille –

One of the interesting things about the success of Titanic is the showmanship connected with the film, the way this megahit has created excitement about moviegoing itself that previous box-office champs like Jurassic Park did not. Cecil B. De Mille's famous film about a circus flaunts its showmanship too, and did it so well that it convinced Oscar-voters to give it Best Picture, despite its cinematic limitations.

Charlton Heston plays Brad, the circus boss who puts the welfare of his show above all else, including his own love life. To help guarantee a long run and safeguard everyone's jobs, Brad has hired the Great Sebastian (Cornel Wilde), a big-name aerialist. This rankles Holly (Betty Hutton), who must relinquish her center ring spot to make way for the new headliner. Holly and Sebastian begin a dangerous competition working without a net to see who can outperform the other. Other subplots involve Angel (Gloria Grahame), the elephant girl, who also loves Brad but must endure the possessive jealousies of Klaus (Lyle Bettger), a trainer. Jimmy Stewart plays Buttons the Clown, who never removes his makeup and whose past remains a mystery. De Mille works real circus acts into the flow as well as a few songs. In one, Stewart sings while bouncing with Betty Hutton and real clown Emmett Kelly on a trampoline.

The climax of the film makes no attempt to hide its melodrama. The circus train derails in a wreck that leaves acres of smashed cars, loose animals, and smoking debris. Brad is seriously injured and pinned under heavy wreckage. The series of rapid plot twists that follow could only come from a director who grew up savoring the melodramas of the late-nineteenth century stage. These breaking events involve an elephant, an FBI agent (De Mille regular Henry Wilcoxon), the secret identity of one of the circus workers, an unexpected sacrifice, and, above all, the continual conviction that the show must go on. The script is stuffed with cliches, and the acting is heavy on the ham (especially Heston, who screams at the financial backers that little kids need the circus too!). When De Mille worked with contemporary characters, they sometimes behaved as if they should wear togas and sandals and carry swords. Overall, the movie carries itself along, like the circus, on its showmanship.

Cast: Charlton Heston (Brad), Betty Hutton (Holly), Cornel Wilde (The Great Sebastian), Dorothy Lamour (Phyllis), Gloria Grahame (Angel), James Stewart (Buttons the Clown), Henry Wilcoxon (Gregory), Lyle Bettger (Klaus), Lawrence Tierney (Mr. Henderson), Emmett Kelly (Himself), John Ringling North (Himself), Bob Carson (Ringmaster), Lillian Albertson (Buttons' Mother), William Boyd (Hopalong Cassidy), Bing Crosby (Circus Spectator), Bob Hope (Circus Spectator), Alberto Zoppe (Trick Rider) Screenwriter: Frank Cavett, Fredric M. Frank, Barre Lyndon, Theodore St. John Cinematographer: George Barnes, J. Peverell Marley Composer: Victor Young Producer: Cecil B. De Mille for Paramount Running Time: 153 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards, 1952: Picture, Story (Frank Cavett, Fredric M. Frank, and Theodore St. John), Nominations: Costume Design, Director (Cecil B. De Mille), Editing; Golden Globe Awards, 1953: Director (Cecil B. De Mille), Film—Drama.

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