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Annie Van Auken | Planet Earth | 01/18/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
"It's often said that the only reason Cecil B. De Mille's THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH won the 1952 Best Picture Oscar is Academy voters were reluctant to choose HIGH NOON, which was scripted by the recently HUAC-blacklisted Carl Foreman.
Unless you're a fan of circus parades and goings-on under the big top, "Greatest Show" has long performance sections that may start to get boring. These moments also interrupt the main story of trapeze artist Betty Hutton, who's emotionally torn between pipe-smoking suede-jacketed circus owner Charlton Heston and Hungarian accented Cornel Wilde as ego-driven aeralist, the Great Sebastian. When not deflecting his amorous advances, Hutton actively competes against Wilde for the coveted center ring spot.
Looking a bit matronly, Dorothy Lamour is here, as is Gloria Grahame. Both are the prolific Sebastian's ex-lovers.
This film has something for everyone. For drama, there's a character named Harry (John Kellogg) who gets smooshed as a result of a spectacular train wreck; Heston is also injured during this chaos by getting trapped under some debris. Earlier, Wilde falls and crushes his arm as he tries to outdo Hutton by performing a dangerous aerial stunt without a safety net. Clearly the circus life is fraught with hazard.
There's crime, in the form of the robbery that leads to crook Harry's injury and the death of his co-conspirator, Klaus (Lyle Bettger). Additionally, Jimmy Stewart is a clown on the run. He's an ex-medico being tracked by detectives for a mercy killing who now hides 24/7 behind his "Buttons" makeup.
For kids of all ages there's animals and clowns, pomp and pageantry. Sad-faced Emmett Kelly is in this mix as are many old-time Barnum & Bailey folks. Finally we have the adult stories of love and jealousy.
A bit overlong and by no means flawless, "Greatest Show" is still worth seeing if only for an impressive derailing sequence, which stands up well and is quite a spectacle. On a ten star scale, give this one 6 and a half."