In our March 2003 issue, "culture vulture" Bob Plunket picked his favorite Florida movies. What he didn't mention is that 14 films have been made right here in the Sarasota area.
The first, The Greatest Show on Earth, strutted Betty Hutton and a parade of circus animals down Main Street to the beat of the movie's theme song. Director Cecil B. DeMille, himself one of Hollywood's greatest showmen, found his muse in Charleton Heston's circus manager Brad Braden. Cornel Wilde makes a dashing French trapeze artist, and Gloria Grahame's femme fatale is a fun change of pace from the ditzes she usually played in other films. The movie also features an un-billed Jimmy Stewart (who never appeared without makeup) as Buttons the Clown. Plenty of drama, some comedy, and lots of over-the-top acting-exactly what you'd expect from one of the best movies ever made about the circus big top.
That same zest for over-acting is what makes Palmetto so much fun to watch. Lusty Elizabeth Shue seduces Woody Harrelson's hapless ex-con into a scheme to fake her stepdaughter's abduction. The usual intrigue ensues. Longing glances sear the scenery and perspiration dampens some serious décolletage (hey, this is Florida) before the final twisted outcome. SARASOTA Magazine publisher Jimmy Dean landed a bit part in the movie as a reporter.
Some people thought director John Schlesinger (Yanks, Marathon Man) was slumming when he came to town to make Honky Tonk Freeway. We prefer to believe the warm Sarasota sun eased him into a state of relaxation he would never find in Hollywood. After all, he did go on to create respected thrillers like Pacific Heights and Cold Comfort Farm, a breezy British comedy. Honky Tonk Freeway bombed at the box office, but has since gained cult status for its wacky adventures of the citizenry of Ticlaw, a small town in Florida that's fighting to stop a government plan to build a freeway nearby.
If you want to check out some other films shot on location in Sarasota, here's a list. Rent them and see if you can spot anything familiar.
The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964)
Color Me Blood Red (1965) ...aka Model Massacre
Adam Lost His Apple (1966)
Glory Days (1979)...aka The Best Days of Our Lives
Honky Tonk Freeway (1981)
Spring Fever (1982)...aka Sneakers
Le Matou (1985) ..aka The Alley Cat
Purple Dragon Dinosaur (1995)
Tous les jours dimanche (1995) ...aka Seven Sundays (1995) (Our own cultural editor Kay Kipling had a bit part in this one as an extra during a cocktail party scene.)
Walkin' on Sunshine: The Movie (1997)
Great Expectations (1998)
The Bail (2002)
Honorable Mention: A Flash of Green, filmed in part here in Sarasota. Our Associate Editor Susan Burns played an extra in this move based on the John D. MacDonald novel.