Smallest Show on Earth, The (1957)

Smallest Show on Earth, The (1957)

“We’ve got to make the Bijou the best little cinema in this part of the country!”

When a writer (Bill Travers) and his wife (Virginia McKenna) inherit a rundown cinema (the Bijou) previously manned by three aging employees — a doorman (Bernard Miles), a ticket-taker (Margaret Rutherford), and a tippling projectionist (Peter Sellers) — they attempt to turn it into a going concern in order to convince their competitor (Francis De Wolff) to buy them out.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Comedy
  • Inheritance
  • Margaret Rutherford Films
  • Peter Sellers Films
  • Rivalry

Film fanatics will surely be inherently drawn to the subject matter of this comedy about a young couple trying to revive an ailing independent cinema house (which shows nothing but westerns!). Unfortunately, while there are some genuinely charming moments scattered throughout — and one definitely gains a renewed appreciation for the skill involved in running a movie theater — the storyline itself never really takes off, making this a good-natured situation comedy with much potential but too little pay-off. Once the central conflict is established — McKenna and Travers must convince De Wolff that they’re serious in their commitment to running the Bijou — all that’s left is to watch our intrepid cast attempt to make a go of things; but their antics are mildly amusing at best. Meanwhile, none of the three “elderly” characters — played by cinematic favorites Sellers, Rutherford, and a nearly-indistinguishable Miles — are sufficiently developed (or given enough screentime):

… and the understated denouement is surprisingly discomfiting.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • An amusing look at the challenges of running an independent cinema house

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look, and will likely be endearing to most film fanatics, given its subject matter. Listed as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book.


One thought on “Smallest Show on Earth, The (1957)

  1. Not a must – tho, yes, it will hold some special interest for ffs who enjoy stories directly dealing with movie theatres.

    AKA ‘Big Time Operators’ (apparently someone thought changing the wording from ‘Smallest’ to ‘Big’ would make a difference), this is overall a gentle, nicely acted (esp. Sellers and Rutherford, natch), mildly amusing/reasonably engaging tale. ~if nothing more. (Although there is the added element of wanting to stick it to big business – which I can’t say I find all that blameworthy, all things considered.)

    Screenwriter William Rose had just seen his script for ‘The Ladykillers’ (a fave) filmed. This effort comes off as less polished (or less ambitious) – like someone had asked Rose, post-‘Ladykillers’…”Have you got anything else stashed away?” That said, it’s not a waste of time. Rose (an American) would go on to pen ‘It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World’ and ‘The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming’. So this film is instructive for those interested in seeing more of his interesting development as a writer.

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