This is a quaint little movie about a newlywed couple who inherit an old cinema in Britain that has an old drunk played by Peter Sellers running the projector.
Smallest Show On Earth, The
Directors: Basil Dearden
Producers: Michael Relph
Writers: William Rose And John Eldrige Based On A Story By Willliam Rose
Features: Widescreen(1.66:1), Printed Peter Sellers Biography And In Dolby Digital Mono.
Mr. Quill...Peter Sellers
Mrs. Fazackalee...Margaret Rutherford
Robin Simon...Leslie Phillips
Marlene Hogg...June Cunningham
Mr. Hogg...Sidney James
Mr. Hardcastle...Frances De Wolfe
Old Tom...Bernard Miles
"The Smallest Show On Earth" is a rather eclectic movie made in Britain in 1957 starring a then unknown actor named Peter Sellers. It is in black and white and also features Virginia McKenna of later "Born Free" fame. This movie is about small people in a small town with a small movie theater. There are no big bangs or killings in this movie and nobody goes insane. This is simply a quaint story of life in a small place on a small scale. The screenplay is by Willaim Rose and John Eldrige based on a short story by William Rose who later won a British academy award for his screenplay called "The Ladykillers." There is an American update of "The Ladykillers" starring Tom Hanks in the theaters right now. The characters in "The Smallest Show On Earth" are the focal point in this story as even the events happening are small: two newlyweds in a big city go to a small town to see the cinema the husband was left by a great uncle. There is slightly more to it than that, but not much more. What entices the viewer of this film are the presentations of the characters by some great British actors. Margaret Rutherford, Frances De Wolfe and Sidney James make appearances, though James' part is very short, more like a guest appearance.
The movie starts out as a cash strapped couple gets a letter from a lawyer's office detailing an inheritance by the husband, Matt Spencer(Bill Travers). Jean(Virginia McKenna) and Matt go to a town called Sloughborough to find out what they have been left. They are disappointed to find out it is basically just a dilapidated old movie theater that has seen better days. Complementing this theater is a staff of three who look like they too have seen better days. There is Old Tom(Bernard Miles), the doorman; Mrs. Fazackalee(Margaret Rutherford), the ticket lady; and Mr. Quill(Peter Sellers), the alcoholic film projectionist. Hanging around in the background as the moustached villain is Mr. Hardcastle(Frances De Wolfe) who wants to purchase the theater for pennies on the dollar in order to raze it and construct a parking lot for his nearby more modern theater, The Grand.
I guess when you come down to it this is a movie about old vs. new. Here comes the sleek up to date technology and the old outdated relics of the past are supposed to disappear. However, this is Britain and tradition has always had a strong grasp here. The young couple of Matt and Jean mean well, but they are from the big city where efficiency is a way of life. Inheriting this monstrosity of another era has put them off kilter. At first it is them against the cinema and the three holdovers from the past. Soon Matt and Jean come to realize that through a mutual cooperation with the cinema's caretakers they all can benefit. This is the new gaining a respect for what has come before them.
What I consider to be a high point in this film is the detail of the sets in the scenes filmed in the old movie house. Though in black and white this DVD gives exceptional clarity to every item in a scene. This antiquated theater is a marvel to look at when compared to today's ultra bland multiplexes. The patterns of the carpet and walls are very intricate. You can practically breathe in the dust and cobwebs when Matt and Jean first set foot in their inheritance. Old and falling apart, the forgotten business place still resonates with more life than what is offered to the moviegoing public today.
Despite the fact that he was only thirty-two years old at the making of this movie, Peter Sellers is able to stand along side the very mature actors who portray the two other over the hill employees. With his make-up expertly applied and a great acting job, Sellers does not look a day under sixty-five. If it was not known beforehand what his real age was any audience member would never notice a difference in ages among the three actors.
"The Smallest Show On Earth" would be considered a regional movie. This meant that though it was good it would only have been believed to have regional appeal to Britain and not have been released abroad. As Peter Sellers' fame increased so did his ego and he would refuse to do these kind of local movies later in his career because he wanted to become an international star. This film is included in a box set called "The Peter Sellers Collection" and comes with five other movies: "Carlton-Browne Of The E. O.," "Heaven's Above," "Hoffman," "I'm All Right Jack," and "Two-Way Stretch." The "Carlton-Browne Of The E. O." is said to be inclusive to the boxed set. This is good and bad. It is good in that it has been released for fanatical Peter Sellers fans, but bad in that it is a terrible movie mainly featuring the comedic British actor Terry Thomas in a horrible outing. Peter Sellers has a part just a little bigger than the one he has in "The Smallest Show On Earth." The other movies in the collection are excellent with only the movie "Hoffman" being so off the regular track that it may have a limited appeal.
Films like "The Smallest Show On Earth" are not made like this anymore and if they are attempted there is usually no budget for real actors and quality production as this picture has. This movie may be about small things, but it is a big movie. I would give "The Smallest Show On Earth" five stars out of five.