|Louise Brooks and Gregory Kelly|
It’s hard to think of another film that documents city exteriors as clearly as The Show Off and the fact that it’s Philly as opposed to say LA or New York makes it all the more noteworthy. Crucially, the print is exceptionally clear and it hasn’t even had the restoration afforded to more recent releases.
Based on George Kelly’s play of the same name, The Show Off also proves to be a well produced and enjoyable comedy. Ford Sterling just about avoids obnoxious as the titular blow hard, Aubrey Piper, a $30 a week clerk with delusions – not of grandeur - but of everything.
Aubrey dresses to impress and sits in his corner of the office laughing uproariously at the funny pages (God knows how he holds down his job…). He’s pompous and has ideas way above his station: he’s “too good for this place” but…there he is (hang on, that’s most of us!). He gets offered a lottery ticket to win a car but rips it up and bins it saying that he would prefer the vehicle to be won by someone who “needs it”… needless to say he retrieves the ticket and sticks it together.
He is a man for whom appearance is everything even when it’s obvious there’s nothing more to him than it appears… just about believable and just about bearable!
His endlessly forgiving sweetheart, Amy Fisher, is played well by Lois Wilson as much confused as deluded – sensing her parent’s enmity to her beau she marries him almost in spite. I’m not quite sure what Amy sees in him… sense of humour, dress sense (hardly), ambition?
|Lois Wilson and Louise Brooks|
This may have been a measure of her acting skill at this juncture, she always said she just played herself, and here she helps to anchor the story in the vaguely normal, preventing an excess of Sterling show-boating.
Aubrey is blind to his own failings and screws up every chance he gets even forcing Joe into paying a fine to keep him out of clink after he drives his newly-won automobile into a policeman. Joe had used the family savings which he had intended to invest in his rust-prevention paint. Aubrey’s foolishness might well have cost the Fisher’s a potential fortune as well as their home…
But, can even this clown find redemption?
The Show Off is just down the hall from normal family life I guess but it’s maybe for the best that you can’t hear Aubrey’s braying and his relentless prattle. Sterling does a magnificent job but I’m not sure he’d be bearable in sound. The cast are universally good with the aforementioned Wilson and McDowell excelling.
I watched the Image Entertainment edition which is taken from an excellent quality 35mm print. It’s twinned with Clara Bow’s Plastic Age (1925) which is in much poorer condition and from a 16mm copy but, of course, it's eminently watchable for Clara.
Available from all good tax-paying online retailers and Amazon too… Things could be a lot worse for Brook’s fans with only seven of her 22 films lost and The Show Off is well worth viewing to see both sexy and the City...