Sunday, January 9, 2011

“The Show- Off”(1926)

“The Show- Off”(1926) is a silent comedy drama starring Ford Sterling, Lois Wilson, and Louise Brooks. Directed by Malcolm St. Clair, this is the first of the four film adaptations of the George Kelly play. The story begins with Aubrey Piper, played by Ford Sterling, posing as a railroad executive even though he is really just a $30 a week clerk. He manages to convince a girl from a nice family, Amy Fisher, played by Lois Wilson, that he is rich and successful. Amy’s mother and father dislike Aubrey, but Amy loves him dearly despite his boastfulness. After the wedding, Amy realizes that Aubrey is not rich nor famous. They move into a small apartment, but life is tough because they have trouble paying the bills. When Amy’s father dies, the couple decides to move back into her mother’s home. Surprisingly, Aubrey wins a car in a raffle. Unfortunately, he picks up the car not knowing how to drive and causes some accidents by driving in the wrong lane. At Aubrey’s court hearing the judge hands him a $1,000 fine. Amy’s brother, Joe Fisher, played by Gregory Kelly, pays it with the $1,000 check his father gave him before he died to pay the mortgage. Joe actually prefers losing the house than to have a family member locked up in jail. What happens next is interesting and surprising.

Even though “The Show-Off” is fairly predictable, it is worth watching just to take a look at the legendary and beautiful Louise Brooks in a supporting role as the girlfriend of Joe Fisher, played by Gregory Kelly. I liked the scene where Clara, played by Louise Brooks, catches Aubrey counting portions during the prayer before dinner. I also liked the scene in which Joe and Clara reacted to the death of Pop Fisher. No subtitles were needed because their expressions said it all. Ford Sterling, best known as the chief of the Keystone Cops, gives a wonderful performance as the boastful and pompous Aubrey Piper. His body language and facial expressions bring his character to life. He was certainly a natural comedian. Lois Wilson, who was one of the most dedicated actresses of the silent screen, gives a sympathetic performance as Aubrey’s loving wife.

Born Mary Louise Brooks in Cherryvale, Kansas, on November 14, 1906, she began her entertainment career as a dancer appearing with the Ziegfeld Follies as well as the Ruth Saint Denis’ dance company. Signing with Paramount, Louise’s film debut was in “The Street of Forgotten Men” (1925) in an uncredited role. In 1926, Louise made six pictures at Paramount: “The American Venus,” “Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em,” “A Social Celebrity,” “It’s the Old Army Game,” “The Show-Off,” and “Just Another Blonde.” Embittered over studio politics and longing for a new adventure, Louise shocked the industry by abandoning Paramount to work with director G. W. Pabst in Berlin, Germany. When Pabst saw Louise in Howard Hawks’ “A Girl in Every Port” (1928), he was convinced that she was ideal for the role of Lulu in “Pandora’s Box” (1929). At the time Louise was involved with a Paramount contract and was not available. Pabst settled on Marlene Dietrich, but before shooting began, a cable came from Paramount saying that Louise was willing to play the role. The film was not well liked in Germany, where there was resentment in having an unknown American play an important German dramatic role. In the United States, the film had no chance at all. It was reedited by its importers to make it seem that Lulu was reformed by joining the Salvation Army. Ironically, it was Louise’s waif like role as the doomed flapper Lulu that made her an international sensation and an icon of the Jazz Age. Her sleek, bobbed hairstyle was talked about in every film and fashion magazine and countless women copied it. In 1929, Louise reunited with Pabst and starred in “Diary of a Lost Girl” (1929), a silent study of a troubled young woman that would in time gain cult status. In 1930, Louise Brooks starred in “Miss Europe,” a French film released in both silent and sound versions and titled “Prix de beaute” in its native land. After being cast in B pictures by studio executives as punishment for her defiance, Louise retired from film in 1938. She returned to Kansas and tried teaching dance, but she was not suited for the job. Louise moved to New York City where she worked as a sales clerk at Saks. She lived in obscurity and destitution until former lover, Bill Paley, the founder of CBS, set up a monthly stipend that supported her for the rest of her life. In the 1950’s, French film historians discovered Louise in Rochester, New York. With the help of such film writers as James Card and Kenneth Tynan, she became a sought after film historian and accomplished writer. Louise Brooks died on August 8, 1985. She was 78 years old.


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