Classic Cinema: The Greatest Show on Earth (1937) – By Jason S. Lockard

Cecil Blount DeMille was born on August 12, 1881 in Ashfield, Massachusetts. DeMille began his career as a stage actor in 1900. He later moved on to writing and directing stage productions. His first silent film, The Squaw Man from 1914, was a box-office hit and thus his rise to stardom began.

Cecil B. DeMille went on to make films that were ‘epics’. His films felt like events. The grandeur of his productions made seeing his films a must. I think we all know the biblical epics The Ten Commandments. But DeMille made many great films including 1934’s Cleopatra, 1942’s Reap the wild wind and 1949’s Samson and Delilah, just to name a few. In 1952 before he filmed The Ten Commandments he produced our film for this month The Greatest show on Earth.

The film is set in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. It follows the dramatic and often traumatic lives of trapeze artists, elephant trainers, a mysterious clown who is never out of his make-up and the circus manager who runs the show. This epic is filled with stars including; Betty Huton, Cornel Wilde, Charlton Heston, James Stewart, Dorthy Lamour and so many more. Also the true performers of the circus make appearances in this film. We only see the happy things in the circus in this film DeMille looks at some of the sad and tragic moments as well. No wonder this film won a best picture Oscar.

DeMille married Constance Adams and the couple had one child and adopted three. DeMille was a workaholic while on-location filming in Egypt of the Exodus sequence for 1956’s The Ten Commandments, the then-75-year-old DeMille climbed a 107-foot ladder to the top of the massive Per Rameses set and suffered a serious heart attack. Ignoring his doctor’s orders, DeMille was back directing the film within a week.

Although DeMille completed the film, his health was effectively ruined by the heart attack and sadly it would be his last film. On the evening of January 20, 1959, his doctor paid him a visit at home and seeing how weak the director was, advised that he go to the hospital at once. DeMille merely replied “No, I think I’ll go to the morgue instead.” He died the next day of heart failure at the age of 77. Cecil B Demille has left a treasure trove of films generation have enjoyed and generations to come will enjoy!

If you’ve never seen a DeMille film, where have you been! Check one out today! You won’t regret it! So until next month this is Jason S. Lockard reminding you if you want to see a good film check out a classic.

Moral Rating: Murder
Audience: May not be suitable for young children
Genre: Drama
Length: 152 min.
Released: 1952
Our Rating: A+