Wednesday 31 March 2021

On Blu-ray - David Hare ponders the elements of THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH (Cecil B. DeMIlle, USA, 1952)

Cecil B. DeMille fascinatingly sidelines his two most interesting, if second credited, players in his 1952 The Greatest Show on Earth

First, buried beneath overwhelming clown makeup and drag, Jimmy Stewart (above), and in exactly the same "adjacent" frame position, doubtless assigned by De Mille's cinematic eye to the minor fringe details of every two shot, Gloria Grahame (below) as Chuck Heston's barely acknowledged love interest. 

A fascinating movie that plays back and forth between spectacle and reality, suicidal boredom of a singular personality and the rush of show time.  

Even the soundstage setups and filming which take up no more than 25% of the picture are given a weirdly dark and dull aspect to support the relatively restrained open air shots which DeMille appears to use to bury any hint of the boisterous joy of either the circus itself or this gorgeous three strip Technicolor material shot by George Barnes and stunningly reproduced in the new Paramount Blu-ray.
The real balancing act in this most rejected of major movies is DeMille's balancing act between reportage and fiction. Good mood and bad, enlivenment and termination.  

Open and shut. A final movie or merely the penultimate?

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