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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Circus > Large Frame Format > Greatest Show On Earth (1952/Paramount DVD)

The Greatest Show on Earth


Picture: B     Sound: C+     Extras: D     Film: B+



When something like Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) arrives to DVD and looks stunning it says something very profound about filmmaking that is over half a century old as well as what a good transfer should look like despite its age.  While age has a lot to do with a films ‘look’ on DVD, as well as certain restoration, another factor is laziness, which has plagued the format as certain companies have seen it fit to recycle older, poorer transfers in order to save a buck.  Other companies are devoted to delivering superior product and while Paramount does not have a perfect track record they certainly have some phenomenal examples of good films done right!  For example Apocalypse Now Redux, Hud, John Frankenheimer’s Seconds, and a few others…this is yet another good example!


I have seen many good examples of films brought to DVD from the 50’s, but this one offers some of the best looking color I have seen yet.  Other good examples would be Warner’s reissue of My Fair Lady, Criterion’s Richard III (a VistaVision film), and even to some extent the Marilyn Monroe’s from Fox.  It’s almost fair to say that without prior knowledge of this film that within the first few moments of the film it’s hard to tell what year this film was made because it looks that good!  While it may not be perfect and could undergo an even further restoration to alleviate certain issues with detail and other minor problems, this is certainly more than expected!  If the color is right I can live with the slight imperfections elsewhere and that is exactly the case here!  


DeMille would only direct one film after this and that would be his own revamped and Technicolor version of The Ten Commandments (1956), starring Charlton Heston also.  DeMille was responsible for making Hollywood the big production that it is today, his earlier work was sexually charged romantic comedies and then did more Biblical epics, which would transform the big screen as little known stars were put aside and the focus became more drawn on the large scaled sets and production itself.


The Greatest Show on Earth (with it’s ironic title) studies the complex lives behind the circus workers as competition to be the ‘main’ attraction pins two of the circus talents against one another in the ring, while tension outside the show arises as well between Holly (Betty Hutton) and The Great Sebastien (Cornel Wilde), they are also a couple as well, which only fuels the fire between them.  A few subplots emerge as well as a racketeering organization tries to move in on the business as well and all this boils up through this lengthy, yet powerful production all the way to the end. 


The block style 1.33 X 1 image looks terrific and even with some softness the colors standout quite well.  This is a beautiful example of just how good Technicolor looks even after many years and when done correctly on DVD can show the new market of consumers that older films can still be eye-popping.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono has its limits, but still handles pretty well given its age.  I would almost be interested to see how a 5.1 mix could have been reworked for a film like this, but sadly that is not the case here.  If the film would have been made a few years later it most likely would have been shot in 70mm with the large 6-track magnetic masters, or in Paramount’s case the VistaVision DeMille was soon to employ on a series of big-budget hits for the company, and that would have really delivered.  Neither was the case. 


There are no extras for this DVD and even the two versions released onto LaserDisc had no supplements either, so it’s probably fair to say that nothing was ever produced for this title.  DeMille’s The Ten Commandments was just reissued through Paramount and is also reviewed on this site, which makes for a nice addition to this title.  Some may even think that the picture here looks more accurate overall.



-   Nate Goss


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