The Show Off (1926) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

The Show Off (1926)

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Danny INDIFFERENTI read something once that postulated that silent comedies aged better than silent dramas. The idea is that the physicality of the comedy is ready and apparent, but silent drama relies on either faces (which too many silent actors took as a cue to grossly overact) or a bevy of intertitles that break up the flow of the film.

I won't dare to say this is categorically true; films like The Crowd, Sunrise, or Toll of the Sea all still hold up remarkably well. But that leads me to The Show Off, a fishy kind of film that squirms between comedy and pathos, and doesn't really succeed at either.

Ford Sterling plays Aubrey Piper, a clerk who acts with the pomposity of a manager. His haughtiness at life is matched by his inability to confront it in a realistic manner. He is loud, obnoxious, and doesn't quite get why that bugs other people. When he wins a car in the company lottery, he shrugs it off, then drives it away even though he hasn't a clue how to. When he pins a police officer against the wall, he's quick to blame the officer for jay walking.

His loud boasting soon wins him a wife, Amy, and most of the movie is playing Aubrey against the rest of her family. They, too, aren't exactly well off, but they're hearty. Mom and dad have their own routine, and Amy's brother is a budding inventor. He's dating a rather sweet next door neighbor, played by the cult icon Louise Brooks in one of her early roles.

The play first showed on Broadway in 1924 with a spirit directly from the Jazz age, but the characters should still seem familiar to everyone. Aubrey, struggling to get by and trying to get ahead by making it seem like he's already there, today would have three houses that he'd tried to flip and a bevy of useless subprime mortgages to his name.

After Amy's father dies, the whole family is put into financial duress, and has the threat of foreclosure hanging over their head. Amy's brother is a tortured inventor, having invented a coating that prevents steel from rusting but lacking any way to demonstrate it to the steel companies. Aubrey bumbles about during this family tragedy and is almost kicked out before he gets his act together and uses his boastfulness to sell the formula and save the family.

The movie is okay. There's a couple of funny scenes, though sometimes they're the melodramatic ones rather than the portions being played for laughs. Aubrey can get grating, and at the end, when he's saved the day and is demanding attention for it, the film seems to have firmly placed him back on square one. He's a one note rascal in a one note kind of story.

In fact, the only reason I can imagine that this title even got a DVD release is because of Brooks' presence. She plays a good girl here, which is remarkable considering her brilliant turns on the wicked side of the sex in the seminal Pandora's Box and Diary of a Lost Girl. As the girl next door she plays sweet with remarkable electricity and doesn't fall into any of the mooning cliches that most other 'girl next door' types of the time were want to do.

Louise Brooks lights up every scene she's in; if you're a fan, catch this movie. Otherwise, skip it.

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The Show Off (1926)

Trailer | IMDB
Directed by Malcolm St. Clair
Written by George Kelly
Starring Ford Sterling and Louise Brooks

Posted by Danny

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