22 FEBRUARY 1952, Page 12


The Greatest Show on Earth. (Plaza.)—Roberto. (Continentale.) —Steel Town. (Leicester Square.) MR. CECIL B. DE MILLE'S answer to the challenge of Quo Vadis is The Greatest Show on Earth, a vast vulgar strident Technicolored turmoil of circus-life under the biggest Big Top imaginable, and with more clowns, elephants and trapeze artists to any square inch on the globe's surface. Mr. de Mille draws a parallel with Quo Vadis in that his Christians are also thrown to the lions, this time some thousands of children of all ages eating popcorn, who delight in the danger of so many circus acts and both hope and fear that somebody will get hurt somewhere.

Miss Betty Hutton, Mr. Comel Wilde and Mr. Charlton Heston, the former two rival trapeze artists, the latter the circus boss, make up the somewhat vertiginous sides of the eternal triangle—many of the love-scenes take place upside-down in the roof—and their love-life is, it must be confessed, rather uninteresting. Miss Dorothy Lamour is there in a sarong made of Cellophane spikes, and also Mr. James Stewart permanently disguised as a clown, but none of these talented players can compete with the circus itself. Ever rolling, it rolls them flat. The mechanics of setting it and striking it, the noise, colour and confusion, the genuine Ringling-cum-Barnum- and-Bailey acts, the side-shows and freaks, the tinsel and sawdust overpower any personal story. To see behind the scenes at a circus has been many a childish dream, and here we get d full view of the works. We also get a full view of a stupendous train-smash, the most genuine and yet least sanguinary mix-up of steel and flesh (with the added piquancy of escaped lions) I have ever seen. Mr. Wilde missing his trapeze is cissy stuff compared to what goes on here.

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When a ragged curly-headed urchin, listening to a toccata, gets a holy look on his face, I have an urge to make for the doors. How- ever Roberto, a story woven around the career of the ten-year-old conductor Master Roberto Benzi, has few embarrassing moments, and is, on the whole, simple and sensible. The child does not immediately wield the baton with aplomb, nor does he pick out his first notes on the organ without discord ; and it is proved that even a musical genius must study the technical side of his profession. The film is a French one directed by a M. Georges Lacombe, strenu- ously crusading against the exploitation of child talent. Flattered into playing tripe to world-wide audiences, Master Benzi finally discovers for himself that he is not a performing monkey but a musician, and he returns to the classics as taught him by his first master, beautifully acted by M. Jean Bebucourt. I do not share the young maestro's love for Liszt, but certainly he interprets him with all the fire, tenderness and passion of an old Hungarian sensualist, a discomforting metamorphosis which accentuates the essential loneliness of divinely inspired babies.

Ste el Town, as might be expected, is a film almost exclusively devoted to a foundry. This, as accurately as any mortal being can judge, resembles hell, with great molten streams, fountains of sparks and yawning caverns of fire, not to mention acres of towering machinery, most of it mobile and all of it hot. When not engaged in covering the giant processes which eventually give us hairpins, the film reports on the loves of three people, the inevitable two men and a girl, played by Messrs. John Lund and Howard Duff and Miss Ann Sheridan. ' The latter is extremely attractive, and has some really amusing lines embedded in the over-clever cross-talk. Delightfully sardonic, they made me laugh out loud. Nevertheless, though my rarely-heard laughter is tremendously significant, I cannot in all honesty recommend this picture in toto. Neither metallographists nor humorists will be wholly satisfied.