During the 1950s, besides writing and directing their own work, Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat produced several concept films; compact gems like "The Constant Husband," and this short but enjoyable romp, based on a story by William Rose - the mind responsible behind "The Maggie," "The Ladykillers," and "Genevieve." Both Rose and John Eldrige had teamed up before, writing the air drama "The Man In The Sky" for director Michael Crichton, but "The Smallest Show On Earth" is classic afternoon fluff.
Basil Dearden, better known for his excellent dramas "The Ship That Died Of Shame," "Victim," and "The Mind Benders," ploughs through the material with a brisk, no-nonsense pace while giving room for veteran character actors Margaret Rutherford and Bernard Miles to colour scenes with their inimitable physical presence and amusing mannerism. Instead of diving into the film world by accepting a major starring vehicle, "Goon Show" member Peter Sellers - then 32 years old - rather wisely chose to build up his career playing small, memorable character roles in which he could exploit his gift for mimicry, and beef up the character through subtle, understated physical and verbal nuances.
Sellers is hardly the star of the film, but it's a pivotal role in a film that tells a familiar tale of little married Davids battling a corporate board of overstuffed Goliaths, with innocent oddballs caught between the rather clumsy salvos. Before shooting "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark," cinematographer Douglas Slocombe honed his trade on many small and diverse productions (plus some quota quickies), and Anchor Bay's transfer preserves the luminous black and white cinematography, which includes several in-theatre sequences (including a brilliant western show that's not too far off from some of the antics used by pioneering itinerant film exhibitors in cinema's nascent years).
The film's early scenes also offer some amusing irony, as real-life couple Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna (showing off her legs in a surprisingly candid and exploitative opening scene) would gain far greater fame by playing the surrogate parents of Elsa the lioness nine years later, in "Born Free." Their train ride to the small town is peppered with dialogue that makes it seem the duo went for broke in Africa, after dabbling in the cinema business for a few months!
An informative Peter Sellers biography covers essential career highlights, and includes a filmography. This Anchor Bay title is available alone or as part of The Peter Sellers collection.
This Anchor Bay title is available alone or as part of The Peter Sellers collection, which includes "Carlton-Brown of the F.O.", "Heavens Above!", "Hoffman," "I'm All Right Jack," "The Smallest Show on Earth," and "Two-Way Stretch."
© 2003 Mark R. Hasan