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In the 1950s, there was a run of gentle British comedies in which outmoded and broken-down local institutions (steam trains, tugboats, vintage cars) were saved by collections of committed eccentrics who despised the new-fangled bus services or soulless council bureaucracies and were willing to resort to a little larceny (in this case, arson). The Smallest Show slots in perfectly with the cycle, getting laughs from the Bijou's already outmoded programme of scratchy Westerns and desert dramas (which increase ice cream sales) and sentiment over the staff's midnight screenings of silent movies that remind them of better days. It's likeable rather than hilarious, with Sellers and Miles buried under crepe hair and fake wrinkles competing to out-dodder each other and losing the picture to the inimitable Rutherford, who doesn't have to fake her eccentricity. Pin-up, June Cunningham, is the glamorous usherette and Sid James plays her annoyed Dad.
On the DVD: The Smallest Show on Earth is presented in a decent print, but with no extras. The film is also available as part of the four-disc Peter Sellers Collection. --Kim Newman