The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) Review

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A good movie that runs too long and isn’t great until the last thirty minutes. The Greatest Show on Earth brings me to reviewing this weeks “Oscar Bait” movie. If you have been reading my past Oscar Bait movie reviews then you’ll know that I am watching a previous Best Picture winner each week randomly picked and this week is a movie from the 50’s that I definitely haven’t seen before. I did look up a bit of trivia and found out that this was the first movie that Spielberg watched and has influenced some of his films, and I can really see some similarities in this film that make me think of his movies. I also have read plenty about how many think that this is one of the worst Best Picture winners, so I was full prepared for this to not be good.

The first thing I noticed when I started the film was that it was two and a half hours long which took me by surprise. I don’t mind watching movies that long, but it was going to have to have a petty compelling story for it to be worth the runtime. Also, the credits are all in the very beginning of the film which we somewhat see now, but not the way it was back then. They actually show every bit of the credits for this movie in the very beginning rather than the end and by the end it just sort of wraps up and then cuts back to my Vudu screen.

So if you aren’t familiar with this movie like me then I’ll break down the premise real quick. Hugh Jackman plays as…Just kidding. That’s The Greatest Showman. The Greatest Show on Earth is about the circus plain and simple. The only real compelling bits of story is the fight for the center ring between Holly and The Great Sebastian, and apparently two guys who were kicked out of the circus are now wanting to rob the train the circus is travelling on. Oh and a love triangle between Holly, Sebastian, and Brad…

The conflicts are all great except for the love triangle and the movie really peaks when we get to see the two conflicts. The first one is between Holly and Sebastian vying for the center ring where Holly feels she deserves it but will do anything Sebastian can but better. In one of the best parts of the movie we actually get to see the two go back and forth giving us some truly amazing stunts. This brings me to by applaud for the stunt crew and visuals as a whole. I am not entirely sure if they used any movie magic to make it look like they were performing these stunts or if they actually did them, but they were very impressive.

That goes for the whole movie though. I know that a bunch of the performers were actually from the circus, but as for the actual known actors, I wonder if they went through training to be very good performers in the roles they had in this film. If that is true then I really am impressed with how well they did and wonder how long it took to actually nail it down. That brings me to the next conflict between the two former members of the circus and how they want to steal the money from the train.

It was weird how much was actually set up early on in the movie that I just didn’t pick up on at all that actually comes into play later. I can’t remember the names of the two guys, but one was working with the elephants and the other was scamming people by the games to take their money. They both have a grudge against Charlton Heston (Brad) who kicks them both off the circus so they try and steal the circus money from the train.

The scene is clearly shot with very small models that most people of my generation would see and immediately dismiss or laugh at for being too cheesy or fake, but given the times it was actually very entertaining and quite good. It’s this scene that sets up the last bit of the movie. The train crashing leads to Brad being injured and the whole circus crew pushing for the show to go on. Of course they do and the show goes on as planned despite not having everything they had before since the train wrecked and then the movie ends.

It’s unfortunate because all of the loose ends and set up come into play in this last thirty minutes whether it be the wreck by the two men or Buttons the clown. Both of them elevated the level to a point where I was starting to get more engaged, but the film doesn’t do much else with those plotlines and the movie ends as soon as the excitement really starts to pick up.

The last major conflict is the love triangle between Brad, Holly, and Sebastian. I think the worst part about this is the writing for Holly or possibly even the acting by her also. She seems to overact as if she is in theatre on a stage, but it doesn’t help that she isn’t given much dialogue that is compelling enough to make her more than an object for these two men. I really just didn’t care at all about any of the tug of war between these three and wanted them to just get back to the stunts and circus parts.

Finally, the circus parts are quite good and come off as being somewhat like documentary filmmaking where we get an inside look of what the behind the scenes of the circus is really like. While I think the movie is quite good in moments, it doesn’t feel like it is a real worthy winner, but I can see why it won. It isn’t a fantastic movie, but with the stunts and the great inside look at the circus I can understand on a filmmaking level why it was picked to win. It seems like they really brought everyone to the circus without actually having to go to the real circus. It also was the highest grossing film that year.

While I did quite enjoy the film as a whole, I do feel that it could have been better if it had cut out about thirty minutes and kept a tight two hour runtime. I was surprised with how impressed I was with the stunts and how much I actually enjoyed it, but I can’t say that I would recommend this for anyone. I think that if you are the kind of person that will go out of your way to really dive into film history and go far back to watch historical films then you may enjoy this, but it is not by any means the kind of movie that just anyone would like. By all means though, give it a shot if you seem interested.

If you have seen this movie and you have comments or questions then comment below or email us at TowerCityMedia@gmail.com and follow us @TowerCityMedia

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