The Smallest Show On Earth

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

This eccentric film, in the vein of Ealing comedies, offers a fun reminder of the days of cinema before we all started driving to out-of-town complexes, owned by faceless corporations.

Matt and Jean (real-life husband and wife, Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna) are just starting out on married life and getting by as best they can. One morning, Matt receives a telegram informing him that he has inherited a cinema from a long lost uncle and they head off with high expectations.

This is, of course, a comedy and so things don't go according to plan. It transpires that the cinema-in-question is a rundown fleapit, called The Bijou, struggling to stay afloat in the face of the neighbouring Grand, whose owner is desperate to acquire the building in order to knock it down for a car park - a scenario that is probably more feasible to a modern day audience than it was then.

Matt and Jean, with the help of an unusual workforce - Margaret Rutherford on fine form as Mrs Fazackalee, Peter Sellers as a drunken projectionist and Bernard Miles as a decidely odd handyman - and a solicitor (Leslie Phillips) attempt to fight their corner and save the cinema from oblivion, not an easy feat considering that the locals are more likely to pay for their tickets with porkchops rather than pennies.

This is certainly a star-studded cast, with barely an actor involved that you wouldn't recognise, which is one of the film's strengths. Very much an ensemble piece, it relies heavily on sight gags and cinema business, such as the film running too quickly, or snapping part way through, to provide the best laughs - no less fun for all that.

Just immerse yourself in Fifties tweeness and take a chicken to the multiplex to pay your way in.

Reviewed on: 02 Aug 2002
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The Smallest Show On Earth packshot
Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers inherit a flea pit cinema with an eccentric staff.
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Director: Basil Dearden

Writer: John Eldridge, William Rose

Starring: Virginia McKenna, Bill Travers, Margaret Rutherford, Peter Sellers, Bernard Miles, Leslie Phillips, Sid James

Year: 1957

Runtime: 81 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: UK

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