HeadScratcher No. 78: Lord of the Rings

Show_lSo, what do Bing Crosby, Charlton Heston, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour, and Jimmy Stewart have in common? They all appeared in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1952 epic The Greatest Show on Earth, which critics widely regard as the worst movie ever to win a Best Picture Oscar. (It’s pretty bad, though with plenty of camp appeal, like DeMille’s Biblical spectacles. Certainly, it’s not a better movie than fellow 1952 nominees High Noon and The Quiet Man, or Singin’ in the Rain, which didn’t even get a Best Pic nod.) Heston, in one of his first major roles, stars as the boss of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus; Lamour is a circus performer; her Road movie pals Hope and Crosby have cameos as spectators; and Stewart (pictured) plays a clown with a Terrible Secret who never removes his makeup. (Is it that he’s actually a member of Kiss?)

Many of you guessed that this week’s quiz was Oscar-related but assumed that the five performers had all hosted or won honorary Oscars. (Actually, Hope and Stewart won honorary prizes; Crosby, Heston, and Stewart all won competitive Oscars; and Lamour never even scored a nomination.) Reader Nicole Odekirk guessed that the five were "the only Republican members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences." (Ha!) Snarky Michael Markowitz, who knew the right answer, also cited several other supposed commonalities, including these: "A search of all reviews of all their work yields not one reference to the words ‘pitchy’ or ‘dawg.’" And: All of them had the middle name ‘Hussein.’"

The ring masters who got it right are listed after the jump.

addCredit(“Greatest Show on Earth: Kobal Collection”)

Desiree Bongers
LaChanda Dudley
Mike Durrett
Kerry Ferrone
Shari Lampert
Matt LaPierre
Dominique Lefebvre
Michael Markowitz
Lester Mitchell
Greg Overzat
Harold Reynolds
Cliff Rives
Jan Willemsen
Susan Wloszczyna
Patrick A. Yearout

Thanks for playing, everyone! Come back Friday for another HeadScratcher…

Comments (19 total) Add your comment
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  • Ceballos

    Who in the world did “Singin’ in the Rain” NOT get a Best Picture nomination…not just in 1952, but that classic is deserving of a nod regardless of what year it came out.

  • EP Sato

    The Greatest show won because of HUAC. High Noon was Fred Zinneman’s middle finger to Hollywood establishment for hiding with their tails between their legs when the House UnAmerican Activities Committee blacklisted folks.
    In fact, High Noon writer Carl Foreman left the US, and wrote “Guns of Navarone” and “Bridge over River Kwai” while in exile. He died in 1984, but was un-blacklisted in 1997.
    The Quiet Man deals with the Ireland, who’s status as a republic in those days irked many, and Moulin Rouge was made by a foreign company.
    Ivanhoe, about a rich guy who joins forces with Robin Hood (taking from the rich and giving the proceeds to poor folks), and tries to overthrow the President of the USA…I mean, King of England. Also not “McCarthy” friendly.
    Simply put, the non “Greatest Show” candidates would have run afoul of Congress. Bad as the academy’s selections can be, our elected officials seem clueless by contrast.
    Susman, big “no prize” for you for missing this story.

  • Bill

    Such snobbery. It seems entertainment writers love to place themselves “above it all” when it comes to films from the past (most they don’t even bother to see, but echo the sentiments of other writers). GREATEST is corny as all heck, but it was and is a great piece of entertainment. Spielberg and Scorsese have often sung its praises. I’ll join them.

  • Dougie

    This hilariously terrible movie contains one of my all-time favorite lines of stupid dialogue. During a dramatic scene, Betty Hutton asks “Buttons” the Clown, Jimmy Stewart, why he has no girlfriend, and he replies, in all seriousness, and without irony, “Well, clowns are funny people.”
    It’s alsmost as bone-headed as the great clunker in “The Ten Commandments”, Anne Baxter purring: “Oh Moses, Moses, you stubborn, splendid, adorable fool.”
    Stewart is on the run from the cops, so he hides out as a clown who never takes off his make up, like that wouldn’t make everyone suspicious.
    And then there’s the climax, as two model trains crash on a tabletop. Who did the special effects? Gomez Addams?

  • Dougie

    And if it’s snobbery to notice that a movie is a ridiculous bit of badly-written claptrap, then yes, I’m a snob for quality.
    But I own a DVD of this movie, as it’s always good for some big laughs, just not from the clowns.

  • Bre

    Jimmy Stewart won an Oscar for The Philadelphia Story.

  • furry_tom

    RE: Well, clowns are funny people
    Clowns are supposed to be funny? I always thought they were some sort of arcane punishment for children. “If you don’t behave on your birthday, I’m going to pay a man with a ghost-white face and bloody-red lips to watch over you while I get drunk by the pool.”

  • Anna

    I haven’t seen this movie but it must be pretty bad if it’s worse than “Around the World in 80 Days.”

  • nathan

    Amen Anna, Around the World in 80 Days is completely unwatchable, that bullfight scene seemed to last 2 hours and David Niven has never been more dull.

  • Sara

    I think “Crash” trumped all the bad best picture winners when it won last year. What’s that you say? Racism = bad?

  • kit

    Sorry gang, Shakespeare in Love is the worst movie to get the Oscar for best picture — as bad as The Greatest Show on Earth is, it did have such *real* stars as Stewart, Crosby, et al and not Ben Affleck.

  • Rose

    When I first saw Chariots of Fire I was ten years old and I fell asleep. I watched it again when I was 25, thinking I was more mature and would appreciate it better. But I fell asleep again! At least this time I was home instead of in the theater!

  • Cliff

    My pick for worst Best Picture winner is 1987’s The Last Emperor…if you only have three hours to live, spend them watching this Bertolucci travelogue–it’ll feel like a year.

  • furry_philistine

    The worst best picture EVER was that Casablanca. Round up the usual suspects? More like round up the usual pile of crap.

  • Ep Sato

    Kit, Clif, Sara, you are all correct! Chariots had a cool theme song and I’d argue that’s about it. Shakespeare in love had Affleck, and oi vey was Crash one heck of a preachy and stereotype filled movie!
    My guess is Crash won for political reasons too. As in “you are racist if you vote against Crash”. So while the establishment leans more to the left in Hollywood of today, it seems a lacking backbone’s the only requirement for Academy admission.

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