Saturday, September 18, 2010

1952: The Greatest Show on Earth

Oh my goodness.  I don't know where to begin.  Charlton Heston runs a circus with Betty Hutton as a trapeze artist he's in love with, and lots of acrobats, animals, and clowns (including James Stewart).  Anything interesting that might have come from that is obscured by bad writing, bad editing, a cheesy narrator, too many storylines that are extremely hard to follow, and boring shots of audience members staring into space and eating junk food.  And it was two and a half hours long!

Remember when I watched Grand Hotel, and I said that star-studded films are either really good or really bad?  Grand Hotel was one of the former; this was unquestionably one of the latter.  There are some pretty big names in the cast - Charlton Heston, Betty Hutton, James Stewart, Dorothy Lamour, Gloria Grahame, etc - but they were not enough to save this film, especially since some of them were giving their worst performances.  James Stewart was probably the best, but he didn't have much of a part to work with.  I've never liked Charlton Heston, but I found him even more obnoxious than usual in this film.

Don't get me wrong; it wasn't the worst film I've ever seen.  There were parts that were actually quite entertaining.  But it's the kind of film you watch to make fun of it; certainly not what I would call Best Picture material.  So why did it win?  Were the films of 1952 particularly bad?  The only other nominated film from that year that I've seen is High Noon, which I think is infinitely better than this film.  Also, 1952 was the year of Singin' in the Rain, which is now considered by many (including myself) to be one of the best films ever made.  So the question remains: what was the Academy thinking?

If I had to guess, I'd say this film won because of its color and special effects.  It was certainly very bright and colorful.  I think the special effects were good for 1952, maybe, but now they're just laughable.  Watching this film is kind of like going to the circus, except instead of being able to look wherever you want, you have to see what the camera decides to show you.  And I'm sorry, but watching people eat popcorn while clearly reacting to nothing is not really what I want to look at.  So nice try, Mr. DeMille, but I'm sorry.  It didn't work.

Coming up next: From Here to Eternity (which is actually a good film)

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