Greatest Show on Earth [1952]

The Greatest Show on Earth is a heaping helping of flapdoodle served up by one of Hollywood's canniest entertainers: producer-director Cecil B. DeMille. This overripe melodrama purports to be life inside the Ringling Brothers Circus; maybe it's not, but the circus ought to be like this. The actors wrestling with the purple dialogue are: early-career Charlton Heston, as the tough-as-nails circus manager; Cornel Wilde and Betty Hutton as trapeze artistes; and Gloria Grahame (who won an Oscar), dangling from elephants. Best of all, James Stewart plays a clown who--for mysterious reasons--never removes his makeup. (Stewart took the supporting role simply because he'd always wanted to play a clown.) This is a fried-baloney sandwich of a movie: it ain't sophisticated, and probably isn't good for you, but once you start you can't stop. It was the box-office champ of 1952, and it shocked everybody by winning the best picture Oscar. --Robert Horton

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