The Smallest Show on Earth
Anyone who loves movies like Joe Dante's Matinee and Cinema Paridiso will probably fall for the Peter Sellers comedy The Smallest Show on Earth, a film about the love of film projection. The picture stars Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna (both of whom show up in Born Free) as Matt and Jean Spencer, a writer and his wife who come into an inheritance they were not expecting. It turns out that Matt's great uncle owned a theater named The Bijou Kinema in a small town, but that lovely little theater has been usurped by a more powerful and expensive venue, leaving them with what appears to be a white elephant. Realizing the Bijou is in debt and hoping to sell it off to the more successful theater's owners (who want to destroy it for use as a parking lot), the couple realize that the only way to convince the big dogs that their interest isn't for a quick sale is to re-open the Bijou. This involves employing their dead great-uncle's old employees, including cashier Mrs. Fazackle (Margaret Rutherford), projectionist Percy Quill (Peter Sellers), and usher Old Tom (Bernard Miles). Facing the struggle of getting their theater going but realizing they have an audience for their business the two have to walk a fine line, not upsetting those who really do love the theater while trying to keep the old staffers satisfied and Percy off the booze as it ruins his projection (and unfortunately, no one else knows how to use his antiquated equipment). A charming picture about the power of cinema, director Basil Dearden's film probably is best-suited for those who love movies on a basic movie-going level. Though those hoping for a showcase Seller role probably will be disappointed (his part is relatively minor, though he's fine in it as the theater's drunk), the film works because it's nigh impossible not to fall in love with the rinky-dink Bijou and its employees. For those who love going to small theaters with a sense of history, this surely will strike a nerve of nostalgia, and it remains compelling with a compact 80-minute running-time. Part of "The Peter Sellers Collection," Anchor Bay's DVD release of The Smallest Show on Earth features the black-and-white film in anamorphic widescreen (1.66:1) and in 2.0 mono. The print is in excellent shape, while extras consist of a Sellers biography and filmography. Keep-case.