Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)

In producer/director Cecil B. DeMille's undeserving, star-filled Technicolored Best Picture winning epic about the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus - with three interwoven plot lines:

  • the opening, voice-over narration (by director DeMille) about the "Greatest Show on Earth": ("We bring you the circus - the Pied Piper whose magic tunes greet children of all ages from six to 60, into a tinsel and spun-candy world of reckless beauty and mounting laughter, whirling thrills; of rhythm, excitement and grace; of daring and blaring and dance; of high-stepping horses and high-flying stars. But behind all this, the circus is a massive machine whose very life depends on discipline and motion and speed. A mechanized army on wheels, that rolls over any obstacle in its path, that meets calamity again and again, but always comes up smiling. A place where disaster and tragedy stalk the big top, haunt the backyard, and ride the circus train. Where death is constantly watching for one frayed rope, one weak link, or one trace of fear. A fierce, primitive fighting force that smashes relentlessly forward against impossible odds. That is the circus. And this is the story of the biggest of the big tops, and of the men and women who fight to make it 'The Greatest Show on Earth.'")
  • the revelation of the character of makeup-wearing Buttons the Clown (James Stewart) with a dark secret to hide about his past life as a medical doctor who 'mercy-killed' his wife, and his early hints: "They say each man kills the thing he loves. A coward does it with a kiss, a brave man with a sword," and his demonstrated skill in bandage wrapping that he claimed he learned as "a pharmacist's mate"
  • Buttons' discussion about his loss of love to trapeze artist Holly (Betty Hutton): ("Clowns are funny people, Holly, they only love once"), with her response: ("All men aren't that way, even if they act like clowns")
  • to save the circus financially, the circus manager Brad Braden's (Charlton Heston) hiring of world-class trapeze artist The Great Sebastian (Cornel Wilde), known as "the Debonair King of the Air" - and his dramatic entrance in a speeding sports car with a police escort (and sirens blaring); also, the competitive romantic triangle that soon developed between Holly, Brad, and the womanizing Sebastian
Sebastian's High-Flying Fall
The Spectacular Circus Train Wreck
  • the scene of Sebastian's high-flying fall during his circus act - without a safety net - causing serious injuries to himself - and his request to Braden: ("Walk me off. Do not rob me of my exit")
  • the scene of the spectacular circus train wreck, the film's catastrophic highlight, sending train cars off the tracks releasing wild animals from their smashed cages, with Buttons revealing his secret past in order to perform a life-saving blood transfusion between Sebastian and the critically-injured Brad
  • the triumphant and exciting ending, when a circus parade led by Holly, who had taken charge, promoted the improvised, open-air circus (without a tent) for the town with a massive parade down the main street to the circus grounds: ("They made it! Listen to that band!"), due to the loss of property in the train wreck; and Holly's sensational singing of a chorus of "The Greatest Show on Earth", with Brad proudly looking on: ("Come to the circus! Come on along and see. Hooray for lions and the camels. You'll have fun and look at all the other mammals. Come see the clowns, who play their part. They'll wear a smile that hides a broken heart. Tremendous, stupendous, the circus show shall be. The Bengal tiger and the lion. The trapeze artist does a leap that's death-defyin'. A land of mirth, your money's worth. Come on along to the circus - the greatest show on earth!")
  • the rousing final words of the midway barker (Edmond O'Brien): ("That's all, ladies and gentlemen, that's all. Come again to the greatest show on earth. Bring the children. Bring the old folks. You can shake the sawdust off your feet, but you can't shake it outta your heart. Come again, folks. 'The Greatest Show on Earth.' Come again")

"The Greatest Show on Earth" Opening Narration

Buttons with Trapeze Artist Holly

The Great Sebastian - the "Debonair King of the Air"

Parade Led by Holly to the Circus Grounds

Brad Proudly Looking On

Midway Barker: "Come Again to the Greatest Show on Earth"


Greatest Scenes: Intro | What Makes a Great Scene? | Scenes: Quiz
Scenes: Film Titles A - H | Scenes: Film Titles I - R | Scenes: Film Titles S - Z