THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH   

PARAMOUNT HOME VIDEO

If I didn't know better, I'd swear that some crafty Paramount Home Video souls broke into Warner Home Video's top secret files, stole the secret formula for Warner's deservedly highly praised "Ultra-Resolution" process (which has been responsible for restoring original 3-strip Technicolor films to stunning luminance) and sneakily applied it to this incredibly beautiful full screen transfer of Cecil B. DeMille's splashy and splendiferous THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH. 

For the fact is that this is one of the most awe-inspiringly stunning Technicolor transfers I've ever seen, which replicates with absolutely perfect accuracy the film's jaw-droppingly varied and intense color scheme, with not a hint of blooming or edge enhancement, and the skin tones are perfect in a way that only the truest of Technicolor transfers could accomplish. Even the monaural sound shines here, enriching Victor Young's brilliant score to a level I haven't heard before.

 There was a considerable amount of controversy when, in 1952, THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH took the Best Picture honors away from the expected winner, the ground-breaking HIGH NOON, but I now understand and empathize with the choice more than I ever have before. The manner in which DeMille was able to pull together an undertaking as massive and daunting as this, with so many disparate elements, is impressive indeed.                                    

 THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH has everything--- drama , comedy, action, romance ,jealousy and treachery, which are so cunningly and craftily blended together that even the massive scenes of circus life and spectacle and disastrous train wrecks don't dwarf them. Miraculously, even in these gargantuan circumstances the performances manage to shine: Betty Hutton (who, much to Paramount's consternation, performed all of her high-wire stunts without a double!), Cornel Wilde, Dorothy Lamour, Gloria Grahame are all fine, and Charlton Heston,  whose second film this was, displays a level of confident command that belies his comparative cinematic inexperience at the time.  Special praise, however, must go to James Stewart's performance as Buttons the unlucky clown, which is definitely the trickiest and trappiest role in the film, for it combines humor, warmth and pathos in such a way that the results could be cloying were they not handled with the taste, sensitivity and prodigious talent that Stewart displays here------- and without ever removing his clown makeup!  

The overly modest Paramount Home Video folks make no mention at all about the exemplary quality of this transfer on the dvd package, so clearly it isn't a restoration, but it certainly looks like one, and at the low asking price this has to be one of the biggest bargains of the year. Truly THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH has never looked greater.

--DICK DINMAN

 

 

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