The Greatest Show on Earth is as apt a handle for Cecil B. DeMille’s Technicolored version of the Ringling Bros.-Barnum & Bailey circus as it is for the sawdust extravaganza itself. This is the circus with more entertainment, more thrills, more spangles and as much Big Top atmosphere as RB-B&B itself can offer.
As has come to be expected from DeMille, the story line [by Frederic M. Frank, Theodore St John and Frank Cavett] is not what could be termed subtle. Betty Hutton is pictured as the ‘queen flyer’ who has a yen for Charlton Heston, the circus manager. Lad has sawdust for blood, however. To strengthen the show and thus enable it to play out a full season, he imports another aerialist, the flamboyant and debonair Sebastian (Cornel Wilde). Latter promptly falls for her and she rifts with Heston. That’s quickly exploited by elephant girl Gloria Grahame, who also finds Heston a pretty attractive guy.
James Stewart is woven into the pic as an extraneous but appealing plot element. He’s pictured as a police-sought medico who never removes his clown makeup.
1952: Best Picture, Motion Picture Story.
Nominations: Best Director, Color Costume Design, Editing