This won an Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Story.
It had the real Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus along with a slew of big name stars in the cast.
It also stands with THE ROOM as an unintentional comedy masterpiece. From Jimmy Stewart’s bizarre role as the clown who killed to the insane elephant trainer, the film’s myriad attempts to inject melodrama into what would otherwise be a mildly diverting documentary on mid century circus productions makes it campy as heck.
I think this is why TNT had Penn and Teller host its premiere on the channel back in the early 90s.
DeMille tried so hard to make this into epic drama but what we actually get is over the top comedy made weirdly funnier by the fact it was all meant seriously.
The climactic train crash had my little brothers rolling when we watched it back in the day.
A must watch for fans of the cheesy but lavish and sincere section of enjoyably bad movies.
The Greatest Show On Earth was an entertaining trifle, but it shouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near the best picture award. In truth, aside from the 10 Commandments , I don’t know if anything directed by Cecil B. Demille outside of the silent era could be considered Best Picture worthy. Maybe they were just rewarding a long career (if so, they should have waited, as we will soon see) ---- What astonishes film fans, even more, was that Singin’ in the Rain was locked out as a nominee. Many critics feel it’s the greatest musical ever made, and the best movie of the year.
My personal worst ever Best Picture winner was Around the World in 80 Days (a dry travelogue, only thing worth a dam was Keaton’s cameo). Though some of the modern winners have been equally as atrocious, IMHO (CODA, Green Book).
Personally, I think the Oscar win that makes me angriest is Chariots Of Fire over Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Outside of MAYBE the theme song and the fact that it won several Oscars, does anyone actually talk about Chariots Of Fire? “Hey, remember that long period piece movie that oddly has a pop-synth soundtrack?” Meanwhile, people love Raiders.
I mean… The Greatest Show on Earth isn’t BAD. It’s very watchable with a great cast and a solid set piece with the train crash. It’s just that to say that it’s the best film of that year is utterly bananas.
Raiders of the Lost Ark seemed to me to be just a summer popcorn movie when it came out.
Yes, people loved it, but they also loved Superman I and II and I don’t think that qualifies either of those for best picture.
I suspect, although I could be wrong, that Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars have a lot more significance for younger people than they did to most people who were adults when they came out.
Personally, I thought Raiders was a silly nomination, but I think the Oscars are a silly awards show. They are trying to serve two masters (we want to be Venice, but we want to appeal to a broader audience and get high ratings) and that doesn’t often work well.
But I didn’t much care for Chariots either (found it draggy and stodgy).
Of the nominees I probably would have gone with Atlantic City, though it technically had its release the year before. (I should probably give Reds another try).
My pick for that year was das Boot, which got a bunch of nominations for direction and screenplay, cinematography, editing, sound, sound FX, but none for Best Picture or Best International Film? Weird.
And that’s why it didn’t win. I recall a Sneak Previews Oscars special during the Lyons/Gabler years where they talked about the apparent criteria of a Best Picture winner. One of them was that it must be successful at the box office, but not too successful.
In a way TGSOE reminds me of one of my favorite comedies, the Alan Arkin/Peter Falk classic THE IN-LAWS (1979)….that film does intentionally what I feel the circus flick did unintentionally….it had the leads play ridiculous material totally straightforward, completely frank.
Now, done delicately that can allow the audience to accept the oddness.
Done bluntly it just emphasizes how coo coo crazy everything actually is and spins comedy gold.
Back during the TNT broadcast Penn & Teller could hardly contain their delight over the scene where someone attempts to stop the train by getting onto the tracks and driving straight towards it screaming for it to stop.
It was meant by DeMille to be a nail biter. Instead it had teenage me helpless with mirth.
It was like the Chuck Jones cartoon “Feeding the Kitty” where a bulldog is convinced his little kitten buddy has been mixed into cookie dough and baked in the oven…it’s so over the top one either laughs or leaves.