Lesson in what acting is all about
John R. Bridell | Minneapolis, MN USA | 09/23/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"THE SMALLEST SHOW ON EARTH, the Bijou movie house, is well worth watching for its'lesson in what acting is all about. The enigmatic title is the only puzzlement of the movie. Otherwise, you get entertainment the British plain acting way that only the British seem to know how to do it. "Smallest" is a simple, delightful plot of what might go wrong with the best laid plans of inheritance when the legatees need to put an over-the-hill movie house back in business to compete with an up-to-date rival. You are tenderly entertained, then, by the actors Rutherford, Sellers, and Bernard Miles who were former employees and a threesome tossed into the plot as part of the inheritance. Margaret Rutherford was the deceased's "courtesan" ticket-seller bookkeeper who found a way to keep the old theater operating by taking in, as admission ticket "money," chickens, eggs, and such bookkeeping entries. She also is wise to the dipsy sot up there in the projection booth, Peter Sellers. Despite his penchant for booze he manages to make the ancient projectionist equipment function; equipment manufactured and carried over from Tudor times I would guess. Sellers did not cotton well to Margaret Rutherford. His major complaint was her bad behavior, suggesting thus that the new owner ought to not sack her, but could " . . . say something rude and nasty to her." Bernard Miles,urban relative of the village idiot, janitor and doorman aspired to continue working, but only if he could have a u-nee-form; one like the doorman in the competing movie house [with white gloves tucked under the left shouler epaulette, you see]. A good story also includes something inanimate object that actually plays a role. In this production, that "actor" is the thundering Britrail locomotive driven train that rattles the Bijou movie house, projection equipment and moviegoers, hilariously shaken--not stirred. The Bijou itself is a vestigial of Britain's lust for theater complete with organ that played musical strains for the silent movies, and a section in the back where young couples learned some of the facts of life. Theaters like this, originally opera houses and music halls, still exist in the Notting Hill section of London. Besides all of this location nostalgia, the characters are funny . . . gove'ner."
A sweet era recalled in humor.
James H. Rankin | Milwaukee, Wis. USA | 12/18/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"'THE SMALLEST SHOW ON EARTH' may not have been exactly that since there were certainly smaller, but it was a case of a fictional small "electric theatre" (the British way of differentiating a movie theatre from a legitimate theatre or 'music hall,' as they designated their version of the American vaudeville). This delightful British film is as heart warming and sometimes hilarious as the other reviewers here describe, but it is the wonderful interaction between the story, the sets, and the actors that balance the film and make it a classic. This 19th century 'kinema' was styled in the manner of the traditional British 'music hall' of live performers, but held the earliest of projection equipment (hence the double entendre about projectionist Peter Sellers' 'equipment.') Such asides will be over the heads of the kiddies, but the pleasant pacing and careful dialogue of the actors will please the adults for whom this comedy is intended.The story of a young couple inheriting a cinema and finding that it is not quite the money-maker they imagined would have been prosaic were it not for the clever settings and the three fossils who maintained the old "Bijou" (French for 'jewel'). If it were ever a jewel, it had lost its luster as the years passed and patrons flocked to the newer nearby movie palace, the 'Grand.' Desperate to keep their jobs, the 'fossils' (veteran scene-stealers: Peter Sellers, Margaret Rutherford, and Bernard Miles) took pains to refresh the old place to please new owner Bill Travers, a too seldom used actor of mild presence but uniquely suited to this role. The character of the Bijou's "commissioner" (doorman, janitor, and boiler keeper) Miles in the end tries too hard and creates the only jarring note in the film, which is otherwise tender and memorable. The device of having latter day elevated trains roar past the cinema was inspired and created some memorable scenes, as when the building sways to the slow start up of the train, or when Bill Travers' character is almost rattled off the ladder as he attempts to relight the old roof sign. There are many wonderful sight gags and other fine bits that one will long remember.For those who also like old theatres, it may be of interest to know that the exterior of the Bijou was actually a set created at the meeting of two existing elevated train bridges on Christchurch Ave. at the Kilburn LT station in London. The interior was a also a set, but so well done that you would swear that you were in a real 19th century 'opera house.' The design is thought to be derived from the real Palace of Varieties at Camberwell. The movie palace with the pipe organ - the Grand -- was actually the Gaumont Palace (later the Odeon, now Apollo) in Hammersmith, London. And the use of the fictional name of "Sloughborough" for the town is another little joke since it means 'low place or mire.' These details can be confirmed in the journal of the British "Cinema Theatre Association's" magazine "PICTURE HOUSE," No. 19, Winter 93-94, pages 37 and 38, (where there are photos in this and the previous issue) furnished to this reviewer courtesy of Mr. Brian J. Hall of England.One reviewer said that the only flaw was that the story was too short and I must concur in that, and that is the only real flaw I can find in the film as well. There is a difficulty, however, in appreciating the quality of the film from the most common versions of the VHS-NTSC format videos now available. Amazon lists two ASIN numbers of versions made by the same French Canadian firm, Madacy, which produced them in EP speed, rather than the usual SP speed that allows for quality. Since Amazon never indicates the speed of a tape, I cannot tell if their third variation produced by 'VCI Classics (American Prudential)' is also in this slow speed of poor quality. Not only is the image poor, but the sound is downright difficult to understand! Amazon's sister company, The Internet Movie Data Base (www.IMDB.com), now lists two CD versions about to be released, and we can but hope that they were made from restored masters and are the pleasure that the original film is.P.S.: Two years before the movie "Majestic" (starring Jim Carrey) debuted, the director wrote on the THEATRE HISTORICAL SOCIETY'S web site that he was searching for information about historic theatres for his forthcoming unnamed movie. This reviewer responded with information and said that the description of it he gave sounded something like "The Smallest Show on Earth." He responded that he was amazed that anyone remembered the 1956 British film, but that it was an inspiration for his movie. Look closely at the lobby in "Majestic" and you will see it clearly resembles that in the 'Bijou,' even if the facades were much different. These films turned out very differently, but at least the architecture rewards lovers of theatres."
Good movie but beware the inferior print
Scott MacGillivray | Massachusetts, USA | 12/21/2000
(1 out of 5 stars)
"The one-star rating refers to this particular version. The film itself is a pleasant British comedy about a young couple's adventures with an ancient movie theater and its ancient staff. However, this is an extended-play tape of a bootleg-quality print with inferior picture and sound, and fans of the film will definitely be disappointed by the video presentation."
An Entertaining Show
David Baldwin | Philadelphia,PA USA | 08/05/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"First off, anybody purchasing this film expecting a Peter Sellers vehicle will be slightly disappointed. This is an ensemble piece with Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna as the nominal stars. Sellers has a smallish role as an ancient projectionist. That said, this is a movie that champions the movie-going experience even if you experience it at a fleabag establishment and the viewing fare are old cornball cowboy movies whose prints are scratched, faded, and out of focus. Since this movie came out in the fifties, I can relate this experience to my own youth viewing genre movies (kung-fu, slasher,etc.) at soon to be demolished downtown Philadelphia movie palaces in the late seventies and early eighties. Anybody who remembers the neighborhood movie going experience before the rise of multiplexes will love this movie."