The Smallest Show on Earth

Overview

Basil Dearden's The Smallest Show On Earth (1957), which appeared in a number of unauthorized VHS editions during the 1980's, finally arrives on American shores in a worthy home viewing version with the Anchor Bay DVD. It may still lack a little luster -- it is a 45 year old movie that wasn't the object of a major presentation effort -- but the DVD runs circles around any prior video edition that this reviewer has seen, and that's quite a few. The picture, black-and-white and letterboxed with an aspect ratio of ...
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Overview

Basil Dearden's The Smallest Show On Earth (1957), which appeared in a number of unauthorized VHS editions during the 1980's, finally arrives on American shores in a worthy home viewing version with the Anchor Bay DVD. It may still lack a little luster -- it is a 45 year old movie that wasn't the object of a major presentation effort -- but the DVD runs circles around any prior video edition that this reviewer has seen, and that's quite a few. The picture, black-and-white and letterboxed with an aspect ratio of 1.66-to-1, has deep contrasts and lots of detail, and is transferred well enough so that the horizontal lines in the apron worn by Virginia McKenna in the opening scene flow together and shimmer. The letterboxing does wonders for Douglas Slocombe's cinematography and also for Dearden's direction, imparting a balletic feel to the camera movements in that same opening sequence, and the visual delights of this disc extend to the wittily designed menu -- which opens automatically on start-up -- and just about every corner of the picture, especially once we get to the broken down theater inherited by McKenna and her spouse (played by Bill Travers). The audio is excellent, bringing out every nuance of the dialogue and the exquisite details of William Alwyn's charming score. One only wishes that there were a trailer to be included on this disc, but that's a minor shortcoming. The 21 chapter are well chosen and very generous for an 80 minute movie. As with Carlton Browne of the F.O., this disc appears as part of Anchor Bay's Peter Sellers Collection, and as in the case of that movie, Sellers' work is more in the nature of an extremely prominent supporting performance than as the actual "star" of the movie.
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Special Features

Closed Caption; Widescreen presentation (1.66:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs; Peter Sellers bio
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Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Dan Friedman
The Smallest Show on Earth is a little slip of a film from Britain in the tradition of later films such as Cinema Paradiso and The Majestic, along with a hoard of others that try to incestuously convey what a wonderful experience going to the movies can be. Although that's a laudable and often entertaining premise, in this film it is literally the only thing going for it besides an early cinema appearance by Peter Sellers in a supporting role, giving an indication of his amazing versatility playing a septagenarian while in his thirties. There are very quaint and decent performances by the cast, including British stalwarts Virginia McKenna, Bill Travers, Margaret Rutherford, and Leslie Phillips. Travers and McKenna play a young couple who inherit a movie theater and find (surprise!) that it's a run-down antique and in danger of being bought out by the larger theater up the street. Naturally, they decide to refurbish it in the hopes of increasing the offer price but instead come to discover that the joy of the movies means a lot more than they thought it did. Clich├ęs abound, but since the film was made in the late fifties, it's easy to see where a lot of later productions, whether intentionally or not, used many of the same conventions and made them rote. The film has been re-released on video as part of a Sellers collection but its inclusion in that category is paper-thin given his screen time. However, it is very enjoyable as a diversion and, for those who appreciate the days of film gone by, a well-crafted slice of entertainment.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 1/21/2003
  • UPC: 013131193596
  • Original Release: 1957
  • Rating:

  • Source: Starz / Anchor Bay
  • Region Code: 1
  • Aspect Ratio: Vistavision (1.66:1)
  • Presentation: Wide Screen / Black & White
  • Sound: Dolby Digital Mono
  • Language: English
  • Time: 1:20:00
  • Format: DVD

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Bill Travers Matt Spenser
Virginia McKenna Jean Spenser
Leslie Phillips Robin Carter
Peter Sellers Percy Quill
Margaret Rutherford Mrs. Fazackalee
Bernard Miles Old Tom
Francis de Wolff Hardcastle
June Cunningham Marlene Hogg
Sidney James Mr. Hogg
Michael Corcoran Taxi Driver
George Cormack Bell
George Cross Commissioner
Stringer Davis Emmett
Sam Kydd
Technical Credits
Basil Dearden Director
William Alwyn Score Composer
John Eldridge Screenwriter
Harry Frampton Makeup
Leslie Gilliat Associate Producer
Sidney Gilliat Producer
Oswald Hafenrichter Editor
Allan Harris Art Director
Frank Launder Producer
Muir Mathieson Musical Direction/Supervision
Anthony Mendleson Costumes/Costume Designer
John Pellatt Production Manager
Michael Relph Producer
William Rose Screenwriter
Jeff Seaholme Camera Operator
Douglas Slocombe Cinematographer
Wally Veevers Special Effects
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Scene Index

Side #1 --
1. Program Start/Main Titles [1:53]
2. The Letter [3:30]
3. New Town [3:23]
4. Inheritance [2:22]
5. The Bijou [4:57]
6. A Very Sentimental Man [4:25]
7. Meeting the Staff [5:12]
8. The Queer Mr. Quill [4:19]
9. Anxious Buyer [4:26]
10. Second Thoughts [3:50]
11. Loyalty [2:52]
12. Grand Re-Opening [2:57]
13. Train Trouble [7:09]
14. The Ice Cream Girl [4:33]
15. Sweet Smell of Success [3:56]
16. Hardcastle's Scheme [4:00]
17. The Show Must Go On [7:17]
18. Pregnant Pause [2:40]
19. Fire Sale [3:33]
20. Fond Farewell [2:24]
21. End Credits [:28]
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Menu

Side #1 --
   Chapter Selections
   Peter Sellers Bio
   Play
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