The Greatest Show on Earth - Blu-ray Review

Michael Scott

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The Greatest Show on Earth


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Movie: :3.5stars:
Video: :4stars:
Audio: :3.5stars:
Extras: :1star:
Final Score: :3.5stars:



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Movie

Back 70 years ago we didn’t have film like we have it today. Sure, we had the movies, we had the silver screen, and we had plenty of stuff to do, but few things could rival a thousand plus person circus like the Ringling Bros, Barnum and Bailey could put on. We weren’t spoiled by CGI, or wowed by a million different movies on Netflix. A night of entertainment was a dollar at the circus where the whole family could watch a whole cavalcade of dancers, stunt people, and high flying sportsman at the top of their game. To a 21st century digital boy, this may seem not that fun, but back in the 1950s and before, this was a treat to behold. I remember actually going to a PT Barnum circus back when I was a young child in the early 80s, but even back then the circus appeal had started to wain, and the massive crowds that it would normally pull just weren’t there. I guess you could say the circus was a product of its time, but by goodness it was a fun product.

Cecil B. Demille was the king of epics back in the day, and after just having watched their 4K UHD of The Ten Commandments, I was eagerly awaiting my viewing of The Greatest Show on Earth as I hadn’t seen it since it was out on VHS as a boy. It was only 4 years before The Ten Commandments, but The Greatest Show on Earth was a best picture winner for 1952, and one of those massive extravaganzas that had everything in in. I know it’s a film that is beloved by many classic film buffs, and as a HUGE Cecil B. Demille fan, I understand the allure of his films. However, as much as this is an entertaining flick, it’s not one of my favorites from that time period. The movie goes on about 30 minutes too long, and some of the cliched romantic entanglements between the leads gets a bit silly at times. Still, it is a MASSIVE production, with some incredible stunts and more colors and unique situations than one can shake a stick at, which totally explains why it wowed audiences some 69 years ago.

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In a post WWII world the big brass behind the PT Barnum circus are ready to truncate the full show into just a stop to the 10 major cities in the U.S. in hopes of keeping the books in the black. The economy is down, but manager Brad Braden (Charlton Heston) is adamant about keeping the full season of the circus on schedule. Not only is it the best thing to do for his performers, but it’s the best thing to do for their pocketbooks because a shortened season will not pull in major performers, and cripple the reputation of the gigantic circus. Leveraging the brass with the inclusion of flamboyant wild card “the Great Sebastian” (Cornel Wilde), he finally gets what he wants. A full season of the circus all around the nation.

The Greatest Show on Earth isn’t a typical story, but a sweeping epic that goes under the big tents of the show, and in the backs of cramped train cars to tell the story of the performers behind the scenes. There’s multiple sub plots for the film to explore, ranging form the triangle love story between Brad, his star high flyer Holly (Betty Hutton), and The Great Sebastian. A mysterious clown named Buttons (Jimmy Stewart, only recognizable by his voice) with a secret to hide. As well as a bevy of other performers with their own problems and own romantic inclinations over the course of the 2.5 hour film. No matter the sub plot, no mater the problem that they encounter, there is one simple mantra that the circus people live by in this world. “The Show Must Go On”.

As I mentioned above, The Greatest Show on Earth is a massive classic hit, but not one of my favorite Demille films. It’s a bit sluggish in it’s pacing, and goes on for about 30 minutes too long. Not to mention Holly is INCREDIBLY annoying with her over the top “wishy washy” romantic inclinations. It wouldn’t be so bad if she was natural in her emotions and inclinations, but she plays out as a caricature rather than a fully fleshed out person. Still, this is a massive SWEEPING epic of a film, that is full of life, stunts, tons of color and style, in a way that actually kind of outclasses The Tend Commandments in terms of visual scope. It was a technological marvel in 1952, and an amazing flick to watch unfold from that point of view.




Rating:

Not Rated by the MPAA




Video: :4stars:
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The new 4K master for the film is definitely light years over what I remember the VHS looking like (duh), but it also seems to have a few issues of it’s own. The transfer is reasonably clean and sharp, with good visual detail levels and LOTS of bright and vibrant colors. Colors is the name of the game here, as the film is just lavishly set upon by various shades of reds, pinks, browns, greens, and blues with anything and everything in between making an appearance. There’s some obvious speckles and splotches that show up from the old print, but it’s nothing major. The most obvious culprit here are the copious amount of matte lines that show up for the super imposition over another scene, considering that the flick was shot on studio location instead of of IN the circus tents a goodly portion of the time. It’s a good transfer, but there’s some mild issues with color blocking and a few artifacts in low light shots. This is a very nice looking film, but one that has some inherent issues with the source from what I can see that keep it from being GREAT.






Audio: :3.5stars:
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The 2.0 Mono track in DTS-HD MA does the job quite nicely, but ALSO has it’s own share of issues. The track is fairly clean and clear, allowing the orchestral score to be cleanly replicated in the mains. But it also has some harshness on the high end of the spectrum as well, and it’s a bit thinner and tinnier than I expected. It’s not bad, and certainly quite a serviceable track for the audience to enjoy, but neither is it on the top end of the spectrum for quality audio mixes either.
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Extras: :1star:
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• BRAND NEW 4K RESTORATION OF THE FILM FROM THE ORIGINAL CAMERA NEGATIVE
• Filmmaker Focus: Leonard Maltin on The Greatest Show on Earth













Final Score: :3.5stars:


The Greatest Show on Earth is a slightly flawed epic from master craftsman Cecil B. Demille, but still only SLIGHTLY flawed. The movie is visually stunning and the new 4K remaster for the film is a delight to watch (even if it still has some issues that wasn’t able to be completely resolved in the new master). Fans of the film will be ecstatic to see the restoration, as well as the packaging for the film. However, there will be some definite disappointment with the VERY meager extras for the film, and the condition of the audio mix. A solid package that is about as flawed as the film itself (meaning just slightly), and an impressive tag team combo with Demille’s release of The Ten Commandments on 4K UHD the same day.


Technical Specifications:

Starring: Charlton Heston, Jimmy Stewart, Betty Hutton, Cornel Wilde, Dorothy Lamour, Gloria Grahame, Lyle Bettger
Directed by: Cecil B. Demille
Written by: Fredric M. Frank, Barre Lyndon, Theodore St. John
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono, French, Spanish DD 2.0 Mono
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, German
Studio: Paramount
Rated: NR
Runtime: 153 minutes
Blu-Ray Release March 30th, 2021
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Recommendation: Fun Watch

 

Epoxy1

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Watched this last night and agree about the length of it being a bit too much. A lot of the circus parade scenes should have been cut shorter but if you look at those segments as "Documentary footage" the film takes a slightly different tone. I also agree about the leading lady...annoying doesn't begin to describe her...I would have gone for the redhead myself :)
 

tripplej

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Thanks for the review. I hardly remember watching this from long time ago. Will take a look again once it is available on amazon prime/netflix. :)
 

mechman

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Must be on a Cecil B. Demille kick! First Ten Commandments and now this one. :T
 

Todd Anderson

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Movie houses are DIGGING DEEP!
 
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