Cecil D.DeMille knew how to make an epic, and both versions of his Ten Commandments prove that point, but I was always more intrigued by what I had heard about his circus picture, The Greatest Show On Earth, mainly because it was the film that really ignited Steven Spielberg’s love of moviemaking.
I had never seen it. But now, thanks to its release to blu-ray, FIRST TIME!, by Paramount Pictures, I could dive into all the melodrama, the magic, and the wonder that seem to be trademarks of DeMille’s big pictures. It boasts a solid cast, amongst them, an almost unrecognisable Jimmy Stewart, who remains in clown makeup throughout the picture. But alongside Stewart, you have Charlton Heston (and hey doesn’t his costume look a little familiar?), Betty Hutton, and Dorothy Lamour.
DeMille shot with an actual circus, catching all the flavour of the real big top, capturing the excitment, and the feel with behind the scenes footage of how they camp comes together, the jobs, the crews and everyone who makes their lives this way.
Intercut with this actual footage are the stories of our characters, taking us amongst the elephants, swinging from a trapeze, and laughing it up with a cadre of clowns.
It’s a big popcorn event of melodrama and fun, told in that spectacular way that DeMille seemed to be a master of.
There’s some great modelwork, as seen in the train crash, animal work, and performances, it’s just such a ride. And it’s one of those films that you can’t believe you’ve never seen before. Of course, availability may have had something to do with it.
But this release proves that it was worth the wait!
The picture, transferred from a 4K scan of the negative is sharp, vibrant and beautiful, the colours practicall leap from the screen and the technicolor is really at work in this film, bringing the circus to life. This may be the best this Best Picture winning film has looked, and it is gorgeous.
And while there isn’t much in the way of extras to the disc, there is an insightful Filmmaker Focus with that beloved film buff and film historian, Leonard Maltin. He gives us glimpses into the making of the film, stories about the cast and crew, and helps put it into context with DeMille’s other works.
It’s been a long time since I had been to a circus, and with the state of the world, I don’t see that happening anytime soon, so it was a real delight to darken the room, thrown this disc on, and enter the three ring big top through the silver screen.
Paramount Pictures’ The Greatest Show On Earth is on blu-ray now!