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Sure, like everyone else, I scratch my head trying to figure out how THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH ($15) ever won an Academy Award for Best Picture; but to tell you the truth- I really like this movie. The cornball excesses of the plot be damned, THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH remains a marvelous cinematic spectacle that brings to the silver screen, the joys of going to the circus. It is doubtful that anyone other than Cecil B. DeMille would have attempted to bring a story based around the Ringling Bros., Barnum and Bailey Circus to the screen, but then again, it is doubtful that anyone other than DeMille could have gotten away with marrying overblown production values to such an obviously corny project.

While THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH serves as a showcase for circus acts of the 1950s, the plot of the film is built upon story elements that are pure soap opera. First we have the love triangle between circus manager Brad Haden (Charlton Heston), rising circus star Holly (Betty Hutton) and the new headliner- The Great Sebastien (Cornel Wilde), a fellow trapeze artist who pushes Holly out of the center ring. Next, is the somewhat convoluted love quadrangle featuring the beautiful Angel (Gloria Grahame), who has had a past Sebastien, works with the insanely jealous elephant trainer Klaus (Lyle Bettger), and wants to add Brad to her menagerie of men. Finally, the plot offers up the mystery of Buttons the Clown (James Stewart), an amiable individual whom everyone likes, but whose secretive past keeps him at an uncomfortable distance. Of course, amongst all this overwrought melodrama, producer/director DeMille manages to document the well-oiled machine that is the circus; showing the audience everything that goes into preparing the greatest show on earth for each performance on the road. The cast of THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH also features Dorothy Lamour, Henry Wilcoxon, Emmett Kelly, Frank Wilcox, Bob Carson, Edmond O'Brien and circus acts too numerous to mention.

Paramount Home Entertainment has made THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH available on DVD in a terrific looking transfer that frames the film in its proper 1.37:1 full screen aspect ratio. THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH is one of those wonderful old style Technicolor movies, and this fine presentation really gives one a good idea what an original IB print might have looked like. As one would expect from Technicolor, the film offers plenty of confectionary hues that really pop off the screen during the presentation. The image itself is pretty sharp and provides very good definition. Blacks appear inky, whites are crisp and contrast is generally quite nice. As for flaws, some of the filmís original process work has problems, which the excellent transfer tends to magnify. However, the film element used for the transfer is very clean, displaying only very minor blemishes. There is a noticeable grain structure in many places during the unspooling, but it is never excessive. Digital compression artifacts are well camouflaged.

THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH features a Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack that is quite good for a film that has passed the half-century mark. Most evidence of background hiss and age related anomalies have been cleaned up in the mastering process, leaving a relatively smooth, crisp sounding track. Fidelity has the expected limitations, but the movieís musical complement comes across in a generally pleasant manner. Dialogue is always completely understandable and the voices hold up rather well. A French language track is also provided on the DVD, as are English subtitles. The basic interactive menus allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features. No supplemental materials have been included on the DVD.

THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH may not be the most deserving film to ever take home the Academy Award for Best Picture, but it sure remains a whole lot of fun. Paramount has done a truly fine job with the filmís presentation on DVD, plus the bargain price is nothing to sneeze at either. If you are a fan, you canít go wrong by adding THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH to your collection. Recommended.



The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2004 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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