Jean (Virginia McKenna - A Town Like Alice) and Matt (Bill Travers - Bhowani Junction) are very much in love but with Matt being a writer they are barely scraping by. But then the news arrives that Matt had an uncle Bill, not that he remembers having one, who having passed away has left him his entire estate which happens to be a cinema in Sloughborough. Not knowing anything about the cinema business they have no plans of running it themselves but selling it. That is until they discover they have inherited the flea-pit, a ramshackle old cinema with an incompetent staff who have been there for as long as anyone can remember. To try and convince a rival cinema owner to buy the place they try to spruce the old place up and running it for a while.
All you need to do is look who is in the cast of "The Smallest Show on Earth", which also is known as "Big Time Operators", to know exactly what sort of British comedy you are going to get with several famous names and faces such as Margaret Rutherford, Peter Sellers and Leslie Phillips all playing typically quirky characters. And for that reason more than anything that "The Smallest Show on Earth" is still fun now, more than 60 years after it was released. There is some thing simply funny watching Margaret Rutherford and Peter Sellers playing characters who are a mix of doddery and cantankerous, who like to wind each other up. Throw in on top of that Leslie Phillips delivering his usual enthusiastic charmer and that is without mentioning the appeal of Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers as are young couple lumbered with this old cinema.
On the subject of this old cinema, The Bijou, it is the classic flea-pit which is grubby but full of character and the sort of establishment many a movie fan would love to rummage around in due to all the history it would have. But I have to say that the storyline which sees Jean and Matt trying to improve the cinema in order to sell the place but facing one problem after another just didn't entertain me like it has some. And that comes from "The Smallest Show on Earth" being more of a quirky character based comedy rather than being consistently about the endeavours and scams which Jean and Matt get up to in order to make the cinema work in order to sell it.
What this all boils down to is that "The Smallest Show on Earth" is an entertaining British comedy with a wonderful cast who to be honest are the reason the movie is still entertaining. But for me the actual storyline surrounding the old cinema just isn't a strong enough vehicle even though it features some funny ideas.