*The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)*

greatestshow

Starring: Charlton Heston, Betty Hutton, Cornel Wilde, Jimmy Stewart, Dorothy Lamour, Gloria Grahame

Director: Cecil B. DeMille

Summary: A circus manager and an egotistical trapeze artist vie for the love of a pretty acrobat

Other Nominations: Director, Story*, Color Costume Design, Film Editing

Positives

-It’s Cecil B. DeMille, he knows one mode which is big-budget spectacle and he does it well, even if most of the credit goes to Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey because all the footage is from their circus and performers. Back in 1952, seeing this must have been pretty grand and you couldn’t have gotten it from anywhere else. This was the first movie Steven Spielberg ever saw, and he said it helped get him interested in movies.

-Jimmy Stewart and Charlton Heston are the highlights. Stewart is good as always, but I was most impressed by the fact that he does a really good job as an actual circus clown. Heston is his entertaining and hammy self, with his voice reminding me of Phil Hartman if he took himself seriously. This was his breakout role, and he’s the standout among the three leads.

Negatives

-This movie is incredibly bloated at 2 and a half hours. The biggest problem is the plot is constantly being interrupted by long sequences showing off all the different circus acts which are fun to start, but get old after a while. This was probably a condition for RB&BB to allow their name and performers to be used, but it adds an incredible amount of length to the movie and it makes the whole film seem start-stop.

-There’s a lot of very noticeable green screening in this movie, and a lot of it seems totally unnecessary. Why would you greenscreen a long conversation between two people in an empty arena, a location you clearly have extensive access to since you use it throughout the movie?

Overall

This does not live up to its reputation as a bad movie, but it is a bad Best Picture winner. I liked some of the performances and the story is fine, but it has a ton of padding and the grandness of the circus hasn’t aged well in an era where you can just pull up a youtube clip of the circus at any time. It’s just mediocre.

Rating: C

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High Noon (1952)

highnoon

Starring: Gary Cooper, Lloyd Bridges, Grace Kelly, Katy Jurado

Director: Fred Zinnemann

Summary: A retired marshall must defend the town from a villain looking for revenge

Other Nominations: Director, Actor (Cooper)*, Adapted Screenplay, Dramatic/Comedy Score*, Original Song (“High Noon”)*, Film Editing*

Positives

-High Noon is widely known as being an allegorical story criticizing those who stood by and did nothing during the HUAC hearings against those in the film industry; while certainly it works on that level, it also totally succeeds as just a great movie period about a man who stands up for a righteous and seemingly hopeless cause in the face of ever-mounting pressure to take the easy way out. What really makes the movie for me is that it takes place in (approximately) real-time, which lends an ever-present sense of urgency and growing dread to everything, and we are frequently reminded of the impending high noon showdown through clocks around the town. Furthering this is the use of heat in the movie as a way of making things feel even more desperate, both from the over-exposed film to make it look bright and sunny, and from the sweat on Cooper’s face at all times.

-My favorite westerns are ones that tend to play with he tropes of the genre in some way, and this really was the first to do that. Among other things, it flips the idea of the lone-wolf manly protagonist, that westerns should be filled with action and great scenery, and even that the good guy wears the white hat and the bad guy wears the black hat. In doing so, it challenges the idea that westerns should be something specific and rigid (i.e. a collection of well-worn and expected tropes) vs. it being a setting that’s used to convey something bigger than just that.

-The score is considered to be a classic, and I mostly agree. I’m actually not a huge fan of the famous theme song, although its repeated use does keep reminding you of the inevitable showdown. What I like best is the instrumental score, which is excellent.

-Lots of fun actors in bit-parts: the always entertaining Thomas Mitchell, Lon Chaney Jr. before his career became too depressing and pathetic, Lee Van Cleef (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, For a Few Dollars More) in his film debut, Western character actor mainstay Jack Elam, and Sheb Wooley of Wilhelm Scream and “Purple People Eaters” fame.

Negatives

-Gary Cooper being way too old is a legitimate complaint on paper: he’s 29 years older than Grace Kelly, his wife in the movie. However, Cooper gives his best performance of his career and I’m not sure who else would have been as good-Gregory Peck turned it down and regretted it, but said something to this effect.

Overall

One of my favorite movies and one I’m really close to giving an A+. Regardless, go watch this movie if you’ve never seen it.

Rating: A

Ivanhoe (1952)

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Starring: Robert Taylor, Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders, Emlyn Williams, Robert Douglas, Finlay Currie, Felix Aylmer, Guy Rolfe

Director: Richard Thorpe

Summary: Sir Walter Scott’s classic tale of the noble knight torn between his fair lady and a beautiful young Jew

Other Nominations: Dramatic/Comedy Score, Color Cinematography

Positives

-There’s a big castle siege in the middle which lasts a good half an hour and is excellent. Nobody does stuff like this anymore, just build a big set, hire a bunch of extras and have people do good stunts.

-Overall solid cast. Both Sanders and Elizabeth Taylor are very good and even Richard Taylor is solid (considering how much he sucked in Quo Vadis)

-The score is great, with lots of strings and trumpets and it is perfectly fitting for this medieval fantasy adventure.

Negatives

-With the exception of that big castle siege, it lacks the fun, action and adventure you would expect out of a movie like this. Especially disappointing was the final battle which was kind of slow and plodding and lacked excitement.

-I Didn’t realize coming in this story involved Robin Hood and re-treads much of the same ground as The Adventures of Robin Hood (Richard III deposed by Prince John, Norman-Saxon conflict). This isn’t exactly a negative in itself, but you can’t help but compare them and the previous movie was clearly the better of the two.

Overall

The last three years, we’ve had King Solomon’s Mines, Quo Vadis, The Greatest Show on Earth and this for Best Picture nominees: we’re definitely entering the big color spectacle movie era where they were competing against TV and had to give audiences something they couldn’t find on the small screen. This is a pretty good movie even if I wouldn’t call it one of the better adventure films out there.

Rating: C+

Moulin Rouge (1952)

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Starring: Jose Ferrer, Colette Marchand, Suzanne Flon, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Katherine Kath

Director: John Huston

Summary: French painter Henri Toulouse-Lautrec fights to find love despite his physical limitations

Other Nominations: Director, Actor (Ferrer), Supporting Actress (Marchand), Color Art Direction*, Color Costume Design*, Film Editing

Positives

-The color looks quite close to real life and would feel at home in later decades vs. the often-colorful and vibrant approach most other Technicolor movies went for. There were plenty of movies around this time with a movie subdued palette, but they tend to look washed-out vs. this which naturalistic and distinctive.

-Ferrer is good in the lead, from both an emotional and physical standpoint. He’s not a big, emotive actor, but he plays the drunken cynicism of his character well. The obvious thing is that you have Ferrer playing someone who is only 4’8”, and they had to use a lot of gimmicks (such holes in the floor or furniture) in order to achieve this, but Ferrer did a lot of very painful walking on his knees for the movie as well (reminiscent of Lon Chaney in The Penalty), so credit has to go there as well.

-The cinematography is really good, especially some of the great wide-shots near the beginning which helps establish Toulouse-Lautrec’s isolation and loneliness in the world.

Negatives

-The movie becomes a bit slow and dull after a while. I think Ferrer’s performance is good, but the character as written isn’t engaging at all and you lose your sympathy for him after a while. The romances themselves are the focus of the movie (which as far as I can tell are fictitious) plod along-I was begging for some more life in the movie beyond the solid visuals, but for the most part I didn’t get any after the first 20 minutes or so.

-The score was really uneven. The music at the Moulin Rouge was good and is what you would expect, but the rest of the score annoyed me, especially the big musical stings whenever something dramatic happened which felt out of place.

Overall

This is not the 2001 movie Moulin Rouge! (which also has Toulouse-Lautrec in a minor role), but instead a straight drama from the 1950’s which is visually very good and has a solid central performance, but the story and characters feel lacking.

Rating: C

The Quiet Man (1952)

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Starring: John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Barry Fitzgerald, Victor McLaglen, Ward Bond

Director: John Ford

Summary: An Irish ex-boxer retires to Ireland and searches for the proper wife

Other Nominations: Director*, Supporting Actor (McLaglen), Adapted Screenplay, Sound Recording, Color Art Direction, Color Cinematography*

Positives

-The movie looks absolutely gorgeous. The color here is some of the best of the era, and nobody knows how to film outdoor scenery like John Ford: the shots of the Irish countryside are the clear highlight of the movie.

-Lots of fun characters and good performances. Fitzgerald is a fun character actor as always, and McLaglen is entertaining as O’Hara’s jerk brother (despite being about 32 years older than her), but O’Hara is the consistent standout. O’Hara never received an Oscar nomination in her long career (although she was given an honorary Oscar in 2014), but she should have here, even if her character has some problems in the second half which aren’t her fault.

-Victor Young’s score is mostly lifted from traditional songs and pre-existing works, but it sets a (generally) light and leisurely tone to the movie.

Negatives

-O’Hara and Wayne’s characters have some problematic elements to them, mainly in the second half of the movie. O’Hara transitions from fiery but likeable to…well, there’s not really another word for it, a bitch. Yeah, I can see her point to an extent, but she takes it way too far and there’s nothing in the first half indicating this part of her character. As for Wayne, his physicality with his wife has not aged well. It makes total sense within the context of the story, but it’s still uncomfortable when he angrily drags O’Hara by the wrist for five miles across the Irish countryside and she of course ends up liking it because she (and everyone in the town) wanted Wayne to be more authoritative. It’s a great example of how music can totally change how you look at a scene: the music is light and cheery, but if there was no music, it would feel completely different.

Overall

This movie definitely has some problems (especially in the second half), but overall I liked it quite a bit even if the review doesn’t reflect that as much as it should. The presentation is great and there’s some fun characters and Wayne’s character is good as well. Worth watching.

Rating: B

1952 in Review

Other Notable Films from 1952

Singin’ in the Rain: Considered by many to be the greatest musical of all-time, it only got two Oscar nominations (Jean Hagen for Best Supporting Actress and Original Musical Score); maybe it was voter hangover after An American in Paris? Since its release, it has grown in stature, ranking #5 on the last AFI list, made the Sight and Sound list in 1982 and 2002.

Ikiru: Kurosawa’s masterpiece about a man with a terminal illness who tries to figure out what he wants to do with the little time he has remaining; Takashi Shimura’s performance is one of the all-time greats.

Umberto D.: Vittorio De Sica followed up his Italian neo-realist classics Bicycle Thieves and Miracle in Milan with this, considered by some to be the best of all of them. Much like in Bicycle Thieves, the lead role is played by a non-professional actor with great results.

Forbidden Games: As seen from this and the previous two entries, the 1950s was an amazing time for international film, this one being from France about two children trying to make their way during WWII.

The Bad and the Beautiful: Despite not receiving a Best Picture nomination, it won 5 Oscars (the only time this has ever happened). In the National Film Registry.

Bwana Devil: The first color 3D film, advertised as “A lion in your lap!  A lover in your arms!” Despite being panned by critics, it did big business and sparked the 3D craze of the 1950s.

 

Limelight: Charlie Chaplin’s last great movie, featuring Chaplin as a washed-up stage clown trying to make a comeback. Famous for featuring arguably the two most famous silent comedians, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, together for the first and only time.

1952 Nominees in Review

High Noon: A

The Quiet Man: B

Ivanhoe: C+

Moulin Rouge: C

The Greatest Show on Earth: C (Won Best Picture)

1952 was indeed one of the worst Best Picture decisions ever (although I would say 1932/33’s Cavalcade over I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang is probably worse), with there being an obvious best and second best nominee, yet they went in a completely different and terrible director. Overall, this was an alright year, highlighted by one movie that was really exceptional.

1953 features three movies set in Rome, two in the ancient Roman empire and one in the modern city, a classic Western with Alan Ladd and Jean Arthur in her last movie, and a smash-hit WWII romance movie that won 8 Oscars including Best Picture.

But first, 1952 marked the 25th Academy Awards ceremony. To honor this occasion, I’m naming my favorite movies, actors, actresses and directors along with a ranking of the first 25 Best Picture winners.

Best of the First 25 Years: 1928-1952

Top 10 1928-1952

  1. The Maltese Falcon
  2. Ninotchka
  3. Casablanca
  4. Rebecca
  5. High Noon
  6. Sunset Boulevard
  7. The Grapes of Wrath
  8. The Great Dictator
  9. It Happened One Night
  10. A Streetcar Named Desire

Ranking the Winners 1928-1952

  1. Casablanca (1943)
  2. Rebecca (1940)
  3. It Happened One Night (1934)
  4. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
  5. All About Eve (1950)
  6. All Quiet on the Western Front (1929/30)
  7. You Can’t Take It With You (1938)
  8. Gone With the Wind (1939)
  9. Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
  10. All the King’s Men (1949)
  11. The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
  12. The Lost Weekend (1945)
  13. Grand Hotel (1931/32)
  14. An American in Paris (1951)
  15. Mrs. Miniver (1942)
  16. Hamlet (1948)
  17. Wings (1927/28)
  18. Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)
  19. How Green Was My Valley (1941)
  20. The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
  21. The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
  22. Going My Way (1944)
  23. The Broadway Melody (1928/29)
  24. Cimarron (1930/31)
  25. Cavalcade (1932/33)

Ranking the Years

  1. 1940 (Rebecca, The Grapes of Wrath, The Great Dictator, The Philadelphia Story, Foreign Correspondent, All This, And Heaven Too, The Letter,The Long Voyage Home, Kitty Foyle, Our Town)
  2. 1941 (The Maltese Falcon, Citizen Kane, The Little Foxes, Suspicion, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, How Green Was My Valley, Blossoms in the Dust, Sergeant York, One Foot in Heaven, Hold Back the Dawn)
  3. 1939 (Ninotchka, The Wizard of Oz, Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Gone With the Wind, Of Mice and Men, Dark Victory, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Wuthering Heights, Love Affair)
  4. 1948 (The Red shoes, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Johnny Belinda, The Snake Pit, Hamlet)
  5. 1938 (Pygmalion, You Can’t Take It With You, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Grand Illusion, Four Daughters, Test Pilot, Jezebel, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Boys Town, The Citadel)
  6. 1943 (Casablanca, The Ox-Bow Incident, The More the Merrier, The Song of Bernadette, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Human Comedy, Madame Curie, Watch on the Rhine, Heaven Can Wait, In Which We Serve)
  7. 1946 (It’s a Wonderful Life, The Best Years of Our Lives, Henry V, The Yearling, The Razor’s Edge)
  8. 1949 (All the King’s Men, The Heiress, Battleground, A Letter to Three Wives, Twelve O’Clock High)
  9. 1950 (Sunset Boulevard, All About Eve, Born Yesterday, Father of the Bride, King Solomon’s Mines)
  10. 1942 (Random Harvest, The Pied Piper, The Magnificent Ambersons, Kings Row, Mrs. Miniver, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Talk of the Town, 49th Parallel, Wake Island)
  11. 1952 (High Noon, The Quiet Man, Ivanhoe, Moulin Rouge, The Greatest Show on Earth)
  12. 1951 (A Streetcar Named Desire, An American in Paris, A Place in the Sun, Decision Before Dawn, Quo Vadis)
  13. 1931/32 (The Champ, The Smiling Lieutenant, Shanghai Express, Grand Hotel, Five Star Final, Bad Girl, One Hour With You, Arrowsmith)
  14. 1929/30 (All Quiet on the Western Front, The Divorcee, The Love Parade, Disraeli, The Big House)
  15. 1947 (Miracle on 34th Street, Great Expectations, The Bishop’s Wife, Gentleman’s Agreement, Crossfire)
  16. 1944 (Gaslight, Double Indemnity, Since You Went Away, Going My Way, Wilson)
  17. 1945 (Mildred Pierce, The Lost Weekend, Spellbound, Anchor’s Aweigh, The Bells of St. Mary’s)
  18. 1935 (Mutiny on the Bounty, Les Miserables, Captain Blood, Alice Adams, The Informer, Top Hat, Ruggles of Red Gap, David Copperfield, A Midsummer Night’s Dream Broadway Melody of 1936, Lives of a Bengal Lancer, Naughty Marietta)
  19. 1934 (It Happened One Night, The Thin Man, Imitation of Life, The Gay Divorcee, The Barretts of Wimpole Street, The House of Rothschild, One Night of Love, Cleopatra, Flirtation Walk, Here Comes the Navy, Viva Villa!, The White Parade)
  20. 1937 (The Life of Emile Zola, Captains Courageous, A Star is Born, Stage Door, The Good Earth, One Hundred Men and a Girl, The Awful Truth, In Old Chicago, Dead End, Lost Horizon)
  21. 1936 (Dodsworth, A Tale of Two Cities, Libeled Lady, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, The Great Ziegfeld, Three Smart Girls, The Story of Louis Pasteur, Romeo and Juliet, San Francisco, Anthony Adverse)
  22. 1927/28 (Wings, 7th Heaven, The Racket)
  23. 1932/33 (I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang, 42nd Street, Little Women, Lady for a Day, Smilin Through, The Private Life of Henry VIII, State Fair, A Farewell to Arms,She Done Him Wrong, Cavalcade)
  24. 1928/29 (The Broadway Melody, The Hollywood Revue of 1929, In Old Arizona, Alibi, The Patriot)
  25. 1930/31 (The Front Page, Cimarron, Trader Horn, Skippy, East Lynne)

Best Actor/Actress/Director

Actor: Charles Laughton (The Private Life of Henry VIII, The Barretts of Wimpole Street, Ruggles of Red Gap, Les Miserables, Mutiny on the Bounty); Runner-Up: Humphrey Bogart (Dead End, Dark Victory, The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre); 3rd Place: Jimmy Stewart (You Can’t Take It With You, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Philadelphia Story, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Greatest Show on Earth)

Actress: Bette Davis (Jezebel, Dark Victory, All This, and Heaven Too, The Letter, The Little Foxes, Watch on the Rhine, All About Eve); Runner-Up: Greer Garson (Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Blossoms in the Dust, Mrs. Miniver, Random Harvest, Madam Curie); 3rd Place: Katharine Hepburn (Little Women, Alice Adams, Stage Door, The Philadelphia Story)

Director: Michael Curtiz (Captain Blood, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Four Daughters, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Casablanca, Mildred Pierce); Runner-Up: Frank Capra (Lady for a Day, It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Lost Horizon, You Can’t Take It With You, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, It’s a Wonderful Life); 3rd Place: George Cukor (Little Women, David Copperfield, Romeo and Juliet, The Philadelphia Story, Gaslight, Born Yesterday)