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Jean and Bill are a struggling married couple with Bill trying to scrape a living as a writer. Out of the blue they receive a telegram informing them that Bill's long-lost uncle has died and left them his business - a cinema in the town of Sloughborough. They pack their bags and travel to Sloughborough expecting to sell the cinema to gain a huge inheritance, however, they discover the cinema is falling apart and is run by a comically incompetant staff who seem to have worked there forever. They set out with a plan to sell it but things don't quite go to plan.Written by
Col Needham <email@example.com>
I am happy to read all the kudos from other film buffs for this little gemstone of a movie. It will seem corny and boring to those brought up on Hollywood in the past 30 years but if they would open up their minds to dry humor and sweetness there is much to enjoy in 'The Smallest Show on Earth.' First off the cast are top-drawer English comedians that are now extinct, sadly. Margaret Rutherford, Bernard Miles and Peter Sellars crown the story with their three highly eccentric and touching portrayals of the old hands at The Bijou, better known as The Flea Pit, an old opera house turned "Kinema". Bernard Miles, especially, gives a highly subtle and often moving portrayal of an aging janitor who lives on for a new uniform. Nowadays he'd be tossed in a home to rot, suffering from "dementia" or some such thing the medical profession has created to niche people for more convenient disposal. But in the days of the making of this movie people like old Tom (Miles) were allowed to continue with their lives, dotty as could be, but happy and earning a living, happy with his cats and his new uniform.
The "straight" couple, the new owners of the Flea Pit, are wonderfully done by the very handsome and under-rated Bill Travers and his real-life wife Virginia McKenna. Travers had the timing sense of Cary Grant, and was much better looking into the bargain. At 6'6" tall he had an engagingly masculine yet vulnerable way about him. He and McKenna have some of the cornier lines and the jokiness can be a bit "eye-rolling" but aside from that period humor this movie is filled with a dry wit that has always been beyond the abilities of Hollywood screen-writers to pen.
There is one scene in particular that sticks in the mind. The three old hands are alone at night in the old theatre. A silent film is playing, Mrs Fazackalee (Rutherford) is at the tinny old piano in the orchestra pit, Old Tom (Miles) is sitting with his cat in the front row. Mr Quill (Sellars) is in the control booth. Only Sellars speaks briefly to the new owners as they arrive upon the scene, lost in the "old days" of the kinema. Just the sight of Rutherford at the piano improvising music to the old love story on the screen, and Miles and his cat in the front row is enough to evoke tears. Longing for lost innocence I suppose.
This movie is loaded with a high humor, no vulgarity, sex or profanity comes into it. A very memorable little film that is long overdue for release on DVD. I was lucky enough to find a good quality VHS copy at Facets in Chicago in case anyone's had trouble rounding up a copy. An excellent miniature masterpiece portraying a more innocent and lovely period of time in our benighted 20th century.
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