Pure entertainment. This movie stands almost as a documentary about the Ringling Brothers Circus and their past of glory. All the circus characters and their performances, in a fast and clever edition, absolutely made this movie worth every frame. And there's a B movie feel among the story that makes this timeless and necessary.
This may be a bit old-fashioned for some, and it may also feature some archaic animal acts that people are happy to have nowadays phased out of most circus performances, but this also sure as hell lives up to that title. I was entertained throughout, tensed up during every major stunt sequence, and absolutely loved the feeling of spending a couple of hours at the circus. Simply superb entertainment.
It's perhaps easy to see this film through modern eyes and find it wanting but I still love this film. It's important as social history too - take away the dramatic elements and consider the circus performances and you are looking at a way of life that just doesn't exist today. If you have access to Charlton Heston's autobiography "in the Arena" he devotes a big chunk to this film that makes interesting reading.
Cecil B. DeMille's ambitious big top saga is a bloated and badly-dated melodrama. It has a few compelling moments (the subplot involving Jimmy Stewart's fugitive clown adds some decent suspense), and the all-star cast provides some entertainment value. But the soap-opera theatrics and old-fashioned spectacles just don't hold up, and the whole thing is way too long.