Smallest Show On Earth, The
If truth be told, square-jawed novelist, Matt Spencer (Bill Travers), doesn't know if he's coming or going at the moment. On the one hand, he receives a letter in the mail, informing him that his Great Uncle has just died of old age. Whilst, on on the other hand, when Matt and his wife, Jean (Virginia McKenna), go to the small county of Sloughborough, to find out what he has inherited, he is informed by his Great Uncle's solicitor, Robert Cartner (Leslie Philips), that he has is now the proud owner of a cinema called 'The Bijou'.
OK, I know what you are thinking to yourself. This is 'good news' for Matt and Jean, right? But then I suppose it depends on whose perspective you are viewing this event from. You see, if you're looking at from the view point of The Bijou's current members of staff -- it's a good thing. Although the ticket lady, Mrs. Fazackalee (Margaret Rutherford), complains about the rats -- the projectionist, Percy Quill (Peter Seller), complains about the state of his equipment -- and the doorman, Old Tom (Bernard Miles), complains about having no uniform to wear. Moreover, the building is in a state of disrepair, the decor is antiquated, the location is next to a very busy railroad track, plus it is also nestling behind a more profitable cinema, called 'the Grand'.
So what can Matt and Jean do about this, huh? Go to see the owner of the Grand, Albert Hardcastle (Francis De Wolff), and accept his offer to buy the Bijou off of them for five thousand pounds, so he can turn it into a car park for his cinema?
Well, they do consider it. Though, sometime later, when both Matt and Robert are having a quiet drink together down the pub, Robert poses a ploy that if Matt attempts to re-open the Bijou -- just to show to Albert that he’s serious about carrying on his Great Uncles legacy -- then Albert -- in turn -- may offer him more money.
Admittedly, at first this ploy seems to work. Especially when Matt and his crew tidy up this old cinema, and he hires a comely usherette, just to coax punters inside. However, due to a misunderstanding with Old Tom, Albert becomes aware of Matt's scheme, and he fights back by tempting Percy Quill (a known drunk) with the dreaded drink.
Still, that's most probably why what next transpires is a right cinematic treat for one and all. As pregnancies are revealed - fires come out of left field - departures are new - and their is old life left yet, in the old Bijou.
Back in the 1950’s, when everything was in Black and White, movies actually told stories. Yeah! Straight up. And 'The Smallest Show on Earth' is one of those quaint old English films, which has the remnants of the days when actors could act without any bravado or special effects. Moreover, the pace is slow, the acting is bold, and everyone who speaks in this flick, you can actually understand what they are saying.
Most probably this is what the 'outside world' thinks that England is like nowadays? And for that alone, this film should be held in reverence. That, as well as the fact that this a very charming relic that really manages to capture the spirit of adventure, without it seeming too wishy-washy to boot.
Now all except for Peter Sellers and maybe Margaret Rutherford, most of the actor in this movie probably aren't that well known today. However, that does not necessarily mean anything within the scheme of things. For example, the main stars of this film, Matt and Jean (who were married in real life), really do hold this story together. Granted, they’re not what I’d call 'every-man' type characters. But they do have an exploratory nature about them, which is very wholesome compared to this day and age.
Also, the same can be said for the supporting cast as well. With a thirty something Peter Sellers, and fifty something Bernard Mills, both convincingly playing men in his seventies and eighties respectively. Leslie Philips becoming a genuinely friendly confidant. Margaret Rutherford doing what only she can do, motherly, stern, but charming. And Francis De Wolf, portraying the imposing stubborn protagonist in a very gentrified way.
'The Smallest Show on Earth' is genuinely a lovely film, filled with a good natured temperament of a by gone age. Here, look at the facts: (1) Bernard Mills was awarded both the Knight Bachelor of the Order of the British Empire in 1969, and a Life Peer in 1979, for his services to drama. (2) Margaret Rutherford cousin is the well-known British politician, Tony Benn. (3) Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna are real life husband and wife, and co-starred in a number of films together, as well as founding the 'Born Free Foundation' in 1984. (4) Prized novelist, Agatha Christie, dedicated her 1963 novel, 'The Mirror Crack'd From Side To Side', to Rutherford, in admiration for her portrayal of Miss Marple. (5) Bill and Virginia are the auntie and the uncle of actor Richard Morant, and actress' Penelope Wilton and Susan Travers. (6) Margaret was interred at Saint James Churchyard in Gerrards Cross, Buckinhamshire, England, with her actor husband, Stringer Davis. Their epitaph reads "A Blithe Spirit.". (7) Virginia McKenna opened a museum dedicated to Violette Szabo in Hereford - www.violette-szabo-museum.co.uk. (8) Both Virginia and Margaret were awarded the O.B.E. (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) in 2004 and 1961 respectively. (9) Virginia's mother wrote the Eartha Kitt hit, "An Englishman Needs Time". (10) Margaret had a very alternate childhood. Just before she was born, her father, William Benn, murdered her grandfather, and was imprisoned for it. And when her mother, Florence Nicholson, died when she was three, Margaret was brought up by her aunt, called Bessie. And (11) The films shown at 'the Bijou' were: 'Killer Riders of Wyoming', 'The Mystery of Hell Valley', 'Comin' Thro' the Rye', and 'Devil Riders of Parched Point'.
Overall 'The Smallest Show on Earth' is a must see film if you like movies that tell a story, and if you like being ushered back to a by gone age. A classic. Say no more.
THE RATING: B+