I was stunned at how good some of the circus acts were. The real Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's Circus' 1951 troupe appears in the film, with over 1000 of its workers, and with its animals and equipment. I don't think we will ever see anything put together like this again to show what the circus was like back then. It would just be too expensive.
Some of the animal acts, the trapeze acts and the clowns were just tremendous. really, really entertaining. It was great to see the best clown of all time, Emmett Kelly and the flying trapeze scenes were done by some of the best trapeze artists ever. if you look at the film credits you will see all the famous acts who appeared as themselves. You will also see many the famous people who were spectators in the film, including Bing Crosby and Bob Hope who came to watch their friend Dorothy Lamour.
I think the circus scenes were great, and I don't think we will ever see anything like it again on the screen (without using CGI)), but ultimately the plot let down the movie.
There were a few plot lines going on. The main was the romance between Betty Hutton, Cornel Wilde and Charlton Heston. There was also the subplot of James Stewart, as Buttons the Clown, always in makeup and hiding from something in his past. Then there was Lawrence Tierney, playing a gangster and trying to muscle in on the show.
None of the plots were good and they let the rest of the movie down. The worst scene was after the train crash, and people were dying all around, and Charlton Heston was trying to rally people to put the show on. Betty Hutton soon joined in as the :Show "must go on" became the rallying cry, even though people were dying all around then and lions and tigers were wandering around loose. A really terrible scene that a good director would have handled much better.
But, the movie is still worth seeing for the great circus scenes, but It definitely was not a good Best Picture Oscar winner.