The Smallest Show on Earth from BAFTA-winning director Basil Dearden premieres on Blu-ray this month, in a new transfer from the original elements by Network Distributing.
This quaint British comedy tells the story of a newly-married couple who inherit a cinema in the North. When Jean and Matt Spenser arrive at the Bijou Kinema – known locally as The Flea Pit – they discover a wreck which nobody will take off their hands. Facing debts, they attempt to reopen the business and sell it off at more than the building’s land value. But with a rival cinema snatching all their trade and a doddery trio of staff stuck in their ways, can The Flea Pit really take flight?
The Smallest Show on Earth is a cosy, gentle little curiosity of a movie. It’s a fascinating snapshot of British life in the late Fifties, particularly the industrial North, which was very much recovering from the aftershocks of the Second World War. Youth culture is beginning to find its feet with the rise of Rock ‘n’ Roll, slick-haired Teddy Boys and glamourous blondes – all which are signposted in this gentle comedy which firmly falls between two eras.
The cast brims will familiar faces, some who would go on to become household names as part of the Carry On juggernaut. The ageless Leslie Phillips crops up as a charming junior lawyer and Sid James roars in for a welcome cameo playing, well, Sid James.
Comedy legend Peter Sellers is almost unrecognisable as an aged-up, boozy projectionist, handing over a remarkably sympathetic and touching performance. Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers are the clean-cut stars and play it reasonably straight, albeit with a middle-class whimsy which hasn’t aged all that well. It’s really the eccentric characters, such as Margaret Rutherford’s dithering Mrs Fazackalee, who draw the big laughs.
Dreaden gives more thought to his direction and cinematography than most workmanlike comedies of the era, which were often pushed out quickly on thin budgets. His camera tracks through many sets and places with a Hitchcockian quality, whilst a technical study of the complexities of movie projection provides an insightful and almost historical document to the early days of picture house management.
There’s also a surprising investment in visual effects which are so seamless you’d scarcely notice them. Matte paintings from Bob Cuff expand the world around the Bijou Kinema with a picture-postcard surrealism, whilst George Samuels’ innovative opticals perfectly integrate projected pictures into the live action of the cinema’s auditorium. For the day, it’s a masterful demonstration of technical wizardry which will, quite successfully, pass unnoticed.
A sparkling new film transfer provides crisp imagery with fine tonality and shadow detail. Location scenes are a touch more contrasty as expected, whilst opticals and transitions demonstrate a little more grain. But on the whole, this is a worthy remaster which glows on Blu-ray. The only minor let down is the sound, which is nowhere near as dynamic as the picture detail. It’s a serviceable mono track and about as good as it gets for a recording of this era.
Out the gate in a swift 82 minutes, this classic comedy wastes no time in telling its charming, uncomplicated and inoffensive tale. At a time when big screen movies were breaking into Technicolor epics, The Smallest Show on Earth shoulders up against the behemoths as an impish monochrome gem, brilliantly capturing the flickering magic of early movies in a period of post-War optimism. A gentle, heart-warming curiosity with plenty of laughs from some of the nation’s best-known faces, The Smallest Show on Earth is an ideal Sunday teatime treat.
Cast: Bill Travers, Virginia McKenna, Peter Sellers, Margaret Rutherford, Bernard Miles, Francis de Wolff, Leslie Phillips, Sid James Writer(s): William Rose & John Eldridge Certificate: U Duration: 82 minutes Released by: Network Distributing Release date: 11th March 2019.
The Smallest Show on Earth is released on 11th March 2019. DVD RRP £12.99, Blu-ray RRP £17.99. Available to order now from Amazon.
To celebrate the release we’ve got two copies on Blu-ray to give away. Enter our competition now for a chance to win.