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Thursday, October 21, 2021

The Greatest Show on Earth (Blu-ray Review)


The Film
The Video
The Audio
The Supplements


The circus comes to town and the lives of the circus manager, trapeze artists, a clown, and a beautiful elephant trainer are explored in this 1952 Best Picture winner from Cecil B. DeMille who gained unprecedented access to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus to film this romance/drama that mixes in a pseudo-documentary style.

Paramount Presents: The Greatest Show on Earth Blu-rayCecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth was DeMille’s lavish love sonnet to the halcyon days of the American circus. DeMille was granted unprecedented access to the inner workings of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, allowing the director to bring to the screen a spectacle that combined a typical melodrama of epic scope in line with his usual fare and a sort of pseudo-documentary style that was out of the norm for DeMille, but very much in vogue with the post-World War II era that saw a boom in the popularity of documentaries.

The 1952 film starred Charlton Heston in only his second major film role, Cornel Wilde, Betty Hutton, Dorothy Lamour, and James Stewart in full clown makeup among others, in a story that had three interwoven subplots that involved a love triangle, professional rivalry, a killer on the lam, and also one of the most famous big screen train wrecks.

The majority of the cast members trained for months to do almost all of their own stunts. Betty Hutton and Cornel Wilde, despite his fear of heights, do some high-flying trapeze work that provides some of the film’s most nail-biting moments.

The Greatest Show on Earth won the Best Picture Oscar® and is often looked upon as the won of, if not the worst film to ever win the coveted statuette. It’s certainly not the best DeMille ever offered, but the intervening years have brought far less worthy Best Picture winners. Of course, the year it won saw other films too controversial for the Academy or society to accept at the winner, such as High Noon, a critique on the McCarthy era Red Scare. There is still plenty to sink your teeth into with this film, such as plenty of sumptuous visuals from DeMille and a powerhouse performance by Heston.

The Video

The Greatest Show on Earth comes newly restored from a 4K scan of the original camera negative and is brought to Blu-ray in an AVC 1080p encodement framed at 1.37:1. Like the recently released on 4K DeMille film The Ten Commandments, this film was also a 3-strip Technicolor film production, but it doesn’t seem to have the same sort of vibrancy and contrast as Commandments ha in its Blu-ray or 4K UHD versions. There is a mixture of pseudo-documentary style footage and straight melodrama in this film and the documentary style is of a slightly lower image quality, looking softer and having a coarser layer of grain while also being a bit less colorful. That said, this film looks great and organic with an overall strong amount of detail in this release and would likely benefit greatly from an HDR 4K disc release as well.

The Audio

The original monaural sound mix for The Greatest Show on Earth comes on this Blu-ray release in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. The sound is more than reasonable for a mono film recording from 1952. It can seem a little boxy at times, but the dialogue is clear and there are little issues with pops, clicks, or hiss even as the dynamic range is narrow.

The Supplements

This Paramount Presents limited-edition comes in collectible packaging with a foldout image of the film’s theatrical poster and an interior spread with still images of the film’s key moments.

  • Digital Movie Code included
  • Filmmaker Focus: Leonard Maltin on The Greatest Show on Earth (1080p; 00:07:42)

The Final Assessment

The worst Best Picture Winner ever? Maybe not. The Paramount Presents imprint offers up a perfect opportunity to reassess or, for anyone who has never seen it, learn about this film and perhaps reorder it in the modern film era. The restoration is great and this is another winner from this series.

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The Greatest Show on Earth is out on Blu-ray March 30, 2021 from Paramount

  • Studios & Distributors: Paramount Pictures | Paramount Home Entertainment
  • Director: Cecil B. DeMille
  • Written By: Fredric M. Frank (screenplay & story) | Barré Lyndon (screenplay) | Theodore St. John (screenplay & story) | Frank Cavett (story)
  • Run Time: 152 Mins.
  • Street Date: 30 March 2021
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
  • Video Format: AVC 1080p
  • Primary Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono
  • Secondary Audio: German DD 2.0 Mono | French DD 2.0 Mono
  • Subtitles: English | English SDH | German | French

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