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Oscars Challenge #82: The Greatest Show On Earth (1952) Movie Review

This Best Picture winner from 1952 might be one of the most confusing films to bag the award. If I had been told to watch a dull circus show for two and a half hours, I would have just sat down and drank my coffee instead.

Seriously, I would instead prefer watching The Greatest Showman ten times more than this one.

Plot Overview

Even though the plot gets quite confusing at times with a mixture of actual clips of parading circus artists and setting up the venue, The Greatest Show On Earth features a particular circus struggling to make amends due to the postwar economic downfall. The general manager, Brad Baden, plans to continue the shows despite the trouble. He tells his aerialist girlfriend, Holly, that she will not be a star. He hires the world-famous aerialist and ladies' man, Sebastian, to be the center of the show. Meanwhile, Buttons the Clown, a mysterious person who never removes his makeup and knows medical knowledge, is in trouble. Holly discovers a newspaper article about a man who mercy killed his wife but does not connect the story to the clown.

Throughout the film's runtime, Holly begins to get jealous of the daredevil acts Sebastian puts to delight the audience. His boastful nature comes back to haunt him when his performance leads to an accident that leaves him almost unable to move.


What is impressive about this movie is how it incorporated actual circus events like how to set up the massive tent, the fabulous introductory parade, and what acts it usually includes.

However, it fails to tell what the story is. I prefer this film to be a documentary rather than an epic two-and-a-half hour long that almost leads nowhere except for the last 20 minutes. A chunk of the movie focuses on the grand introductory parade and other unnecessary things.

A pretty compelling character is Buttons, played by the legendary James Stewart, who never removed his makeup during the film.

Overall, The Greatest Show On Earth is far from other Best Picture winners. It struggles with how the story should be told and creates a mask of outstanding performance and costumes to forget it. It's quite sad because the movie didn't live up to its title.

A not-so-good 1.5 out of 5 stars.

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