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Smallest Show On Earth, The (1957)

The Smallest Show On Earth revolves around a young couple – Matt and Jean Spencer (Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna) – who inherit a decrepit, threadbare cinema named the Bijou in the nowhere town of Sloughborough.

They have also inherited the dusty and eccentric staff; Cashier Mrs Fazakalee (Margaret Rutherford), usher Tom (Bernard Miles) and the drunken projectionist Percy Quill (Peter Sellers).

The Bijou is far removed from its former glory and has an alarming tendency to rattle and shake periodically due to its close proximity to two busy railway lines.

It is also rather hampered financially by being very close to a much more successful, modern and professional local picture house called The Grand – owned by Albert Hardcastle (Francis De Wolff).

Mr Hardcastle suggests to Jean and Matt that he might be willing to purchase the Bijou but explains it must be cleaned, restored and re-opened to the public before he’d be prepared to make a reasonable offer for it. Matt and Jean duly set about the difficult task of cleaning up the place and making it ready for customers again – leading of course to numerous comic incidents and setbacks.

With a limited library of films – that seems to include nothing other than old B-movie Westerns – the Bijou is slowly brought back to something like its former self.

There’s plenty of visual humour for Peter Sellers as Percy Quill as he battles the vibrations caused by the nearby trains and various electrical problems.

Sid James also appears in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it minor role. The exterior of the Bijou Cinema was a facade built for the film between two railway bridges on Christchurch Avenue in Kilburn (London), next to Kilburn Underground station.

Released as Big Time Operators in the USA.

Jean Spenser
Virginia McKenna
Matt Spenser
Bill Travers
Mrs Fazakalee
Margaret Rutherford
Mr Percy Quill
Peter Sellers
Old Tom
Bernard Miles
Albert Hardcastle
Francis De Wolff
Robin Carter
Leslie Phillips
Marlene Hogg
June Cunningham
Mr Hogg
Sidney James
Sam Bell
George Cormack
Fred Emmett
Stringer Davis

Director
Basil Dearden