The Greatest Show on Earth -- After the Bigsby and Brown Traveling Circus goes out of business and the death of his wife, Ringleader The Magnificent Mr. Beauregard is forced to take a lowly job at Banks Brothers Manufacturing Company.
Brad (Heston) is the no-nonsense general manager of what was at the time the world's largest performing troupe. He is confronted with troubles in his past. On one hand, home-office administrators plan to cut the season short, rather than risk losing thousands in the shaky post-WWII economy. He bargains with them to keep the circus on the road as long as they are making a profit, thus keeping 1400 people working. On the other hand, two of his acts, his girlfriend Holly (Hutton) and The Great Sebastian (Wilde), engage in a fierce aerial duel to show which act is the best. Finally, a crooked sideshow promoter and his henchman are running their own schemes, and Brad has to fire them despite their threats.
Another problem unbeknownst to Brad is the mysterious Buttons the Clown (Stewart), who is never seen without his clown paint. Early in the film, he meets a woman who tells him that an unnamed 'they' are asking questions. We discover that she is Buttons' mother, and that they see each other only once a year. Hints about his former life come as he gives first aid to performers and wraps bandages around a trapeze in an expert manner. Holly later finds a newspaper article about a doctor who had 'mercy killed' his wife.
The competition between Holly and Sebastian develops into a romance triangle, with both Sebastian and Brad vying for Holly, as the aerialists' acts become increasingly daring and dangerous. Sebastian meanwhile ignores his former girlfriend Angel (Grahame), who performs in the elephant act. The duel ends when Sebastian falls, after having cut his safety net away. He returns to the circus, but is unable to resume his act due to debilitating injuries. A guilt-ridden Holly professes her love for her former rival over the cold, unfeeling Brad, and a dejected Brad and Angel pair up.
When Sebastian makes his fall, Buttons tends to his injuries. When a doctor expresses admiration for the way he dealt with them, the clown explai
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Master showman Cecil B. DeMille brings the wonder and excitement of the Ringling Bros.-Barnum & Bailey Circus magically to life in The Greatest Show On Earth. Loaded with big-top thrills and chills, it's no wonder this film won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Cecil B. DeMille's The Greatest Show on Earth is a lavish tribute to circuses, featuring three intertwining plotlines concerning romance and rivalry beneath the big top. DeMille's film includes spectacular action sequences, including a show-stopping train wreck. The Greatest Show on Earth won Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Story.
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