The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)

When it came time to sit down and watch The Greatest Show on Earth, I was curious about what was in store for me. This 1952 Best Picture winner featured Charlton Heston and James Stewart, two brilliant actors whose work I am very familiar with. Behind the lens was Cecil B. Demille, whose Ten Commandments is one of the most remarkable movie experiences of all-time. To be honest, I had high expectations based on everything I just mentioned, and I got to say, this film did not disappoint. 

This classic film about the circus currently ranks as the fifth lowest-rated Best Picture winner on IMDb at 6.6. That makes me sad since I was thoroughly entertained from start to finish. I’ve seen a whole bucket list of worse movies, so I will try and convince why the masses are wrong about this flick. 

The best part of the story and what really made the headline characters stand out was the intense drama and competition. Whether it was personal or professional, everyone pushes each other to be better in the sky in the middle of the big top and in the train cabins where emotions conflict with business. 

The stunts were spectacular. I couldn’t look awhile as The Great Sebastian (Cornel Wilde) wowed the audience, who stuffed popcorn and ice cream in their mouths to ease their anxiety. Holly (Betty Hutton) tried to match Sebastian’s stunts and regain her center ring. Of course, she’s in love with circus manager Brad, played by Charlton Heston. He’s all about making money and being successful, so he’s always willing to destroy personal relationships for the sake of the big payday. 

One of the most memorable characters was Buttons the clown, played by James Stewart. You may wonder like I did, why is he always in face paint, even when not performing, only to learn he is a man on the run. Once a brilliant doctor, one wrong move cost him his career and the woman he loved. He joined the circus to hide, only to have his cover blown when he’s called back into action to save a life. He was endearing to me, especially when he talks to his mom at one of the shows and they say goodbye. So heartbreaking. 

I also really enjoyed Heston’s character, Brad. Yes, he was egotistical, but he was all about putting on the best show possible. His position came with a lot of power, so naturally, the hottest girls in the show fought for his attention. Even on his death bed, the guy screamed out orders that the show must go on. You are probably wondering how he got so mortally wounded, well let me tell you about this epic train crash that sets the film up for a grand finale. Two idiots decide to rob the train and cause a commotion that results in the train carrying the animals and attractions colliding with the train carrying the crew. I understand that this was filmed way before computer special effects, making this crash so enjoyable to watch. It felt real, and the efforts that went into it were probably astronomical. 

I’m sure someone out there confused The Greatest Show on Earth with The Greatest Showman. Both are about circus life, and both are amazing pictures. You won’t be disappointed if you take a trip back in time. 8/10


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