This was the week for the stupid clown movie; Cecil B. DeMille’s Greatest Show on Earth and let me tell you, I was dreading it. This just seemed like such a completely bizarre choice for best picture. This year was also the Silver Anniversary of the Oscars. You’d think that after 25 years of misfires and mishaps that they’d start getting things right. Sigh, here we go again…classics like The Quiet Man and High Noon were nominated and lost. One of the best movies ever, Singin’ in the Rain didn’t even get the chance to lose to this clown epic, because it wasn’t even nominated. Greatest Show has been called the worst Best Picture Oscar winner, ever. I don’t know who called it the worst, but whoever they are they probably didn’t see Cimarron or Cavalcade or Broadway Melody like I have. Now those are bad Oscar winners. Greatest Show is probably the best of the worst Best Picture winners.
After seeing Greatest Show I feel kinda stupid for dreading it. Because it’s just soooo much guilty fun. And campy (hoo-boy is it ever campy, and no one loves campy movies more than myself). It’s empty calories: a can of Pringles that you know is bad for you and can’t stop eating. It’s an overboard melodrama that would make Douglas Sirk say “Stop! Too much!” I mean, Jimmy Stewart as Buttons the Clown, a doctor hiding behind clown make up because he’s on the lam after killing someone because he loved her too much. Huh? That’s just a huge WTF moment.
Now that we’re in a brief but rather welcome Technicolor portion of our adventure I have to comment on the colors in the costume choices: Gorgeous. We got a beautiful DVD of this film and I’ve never seen more vivid fuchsias and chartreuses and deep purples. Once again, these were all in the costumes designed by the great Edith Head.
Greatest Show boasts a great cast. Especially the actresses. One of my favorite actresses, the great Gloria Grahame, the movie Oklahoma’s Ado Annie, has a small supporting role as the elephant act girl. Her ability to quip is right up there with the cast of All about Eve.The recently departed Betty Hutton is as perky and fun as ever. Miracle at Morgan’s Creek is just one of the best Christmas movies, ever. If Turner Classic movies ever reruns her interview she did in 2000, try to catch it, she was still a spitfire then. And the wonderfully weird Dorothy Lamour who was just kinda used as window dressing in this film brought along with her a really cool cameo: her Road picture buddies, Bing and Bob, are in an audience scene. Now that’s entertainment.
One of my favorite parts about this adventure into Oscar past is chatting with my mom while we’re watching. Every once in a while she’ll tell a gem of a story like she did last night. When she was a little girl in the 1930’s her father took her to the Ringling Bros. circus. When my grandfather was growing up in Clinton, Iowa he went to school with and knew the famous clown, Felix Adler, who was a clown for 50 years and was, at that time, considered the King of clowns. My mom got to go backstage (or back tent) and meet Mr. Adler. Felix Adler is in this movie.
I live and work really close to a railroad track. Every day I am stopped at least once at the train tracks by some infernally long, slow, noisy, graffiti ridden freight train. It’s a pain and I hate it. Except for one time last fall. I was coming home from work and I was stopped by the actual Ringling Brothers Circus train. It was the coolest, sunniest thing to happen to me at a mundane train crossing, ever. It felt like I had found a four leaf clover. Which brings me to the Circus train crash sequence. Oh, my, was that fantastic. It’s something that should’ve happened a bit sooner in the action, but I’m glad it happened, because it was quite exciting. Way to go, C.B.!
For dinner we went a bit circus-ey. Jim grilled hamburgers, which were great and I made a bread (and circuses) salad, or Panzanella. (This recipe was adapted from a Barefoot Contessa recipe.) It’s very colorful and tasty.
3 tablespoons good olive oil
1 small loaf of sourdough bread
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large, ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and sliced 1/2-inch thick
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 red onion, cut in 1/2 and thinly sliced
1/3 cup basil leaves, cut into slivers
For the vinaigrette:
1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
1/2 cup good olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oil in a large sauté pan. Add the bread and salt; cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently, for 10 minutes, or until nicely browned. Add more oil as needed.
For the vinaigrette, whisk all the ingredients together.
In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, yellow pepper, red onion, and basil, add the bread cubes and toss with the vinaigrette. Season with salt and pepper. Serve, or allow the salad to sit for about half an hour for the flavors to blend.
For dessert we picked up 5 clown cones from Baskin Robbins—Jim had to call several stores to find these guys—so clown hats off to Jim for finding them, they were perfect.