Directed by: Cecil B. DeMille
Starring: Charlton Heston, Betty Hutton, James Stewart, Dorothy Lamour, Cornel Wilde, Gloria Grahame
Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth embarrassingly won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1952. That may say more about the offerings of 1952 than the film itself. Oh, it’s not good. It’s anything but good, but it’s so big and dumb and goofy that it’s kind of hard to actually dislike — even with its punishingly overlong running time of 152 minutes. (I guess it had to be that long to live up to its title.) There’s a central plot of sorts involving circus manager Brad Braden (Charlton Heston) bringing a hotshot trapeze artist (Cornel Wilde) into the show, even though his presence relegates Brad’s girlfriend (Betty Hutton) to a lesser spot. (Drama ensues.) But we also have the usual racketeers wanting to muscle in on the honest circus, and a mercy killer (James Stewart) hiding from the cops under his clown makeup. It’s all pretty dopey and, for such a big picture, it’s curious that two of its leading ladies — Betty Hutton and Dorothy Lamour — weren’t really box office draws by this time, and the other, Gloria Grahame, never quite was. A lot of your reaction will depend on your tolerance for watching circus acts, though a spectacularly unconvincing model train wreck livens things up. Bing Crosby and Bob Hope make guest appearances as spectators in the audience (presumably a return favor for DeMille appearing in Hope’s Son of Paleface earlier that year).
The Hendersonville Film Society will show The Greatest Show on Earth Sunday, Nov. 25 at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.
In Brief: Cecil B. DeMille goes to the circus — with everything that implies. It features big (or at least biggish) stars in melodramatic nonsense set against the big top. There are also circus acts, of course — lots and lots of circus acts, sometimes with stars (and their stunt doubles) taking part. The naïve script and dated effects work provide a certain quaint charm.