Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Brooks and the blow hard… The Show Off (1926)

Louise Brooks and Gregory Kelly
This film might be chiefly of interest due to the presence of a teenage Louise Brooks (she packed so much into her early years: dancer, showgirl… actress) but it also stands out for the glimpse it provides of 1925 Philadelphia.

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.

Ford Sterling
Ford Sterling is seen careering around the city in true Keystone fashion driving his car the wrong way and over sidewalks all the while allowing us precious glimpses of the city as it was. I’m not sure why Philadelphia was the location but it makes a change from Californian dust and the make-shift extras flock around the action in their hundreds adding to the show. Maybe film crews were more of a novelty in the City of Brotherly Love.

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
Brooks is used very successfully as Clara (see what they did there?) the eye-candy girlfriend of Joe Fisher (Gregory Kelly in his last film before his untimely death), her dancer’s poise in evidence throughout as she hops over the garden fence and wears a succession of figure-hugging outfits. She is the one who eventually stands up against Aubrey and tells him to get real… which is appropriate as she is pretty real throughout, playing her character straight against Sterling’s farcical artifice…

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.

Claire McDowell
But she’s not the only one, Amy’s parents see right through Aubrey and Claire McDowell is superb as Mom Fisher: reacting to Aubrey’s foolishness with a series of pained and believable expressions. .. honestly, you really wouldn’t want to mess with her. Pop Fisher (Charles Goodrich) is more mild mannered but even he snaps when Aubrey tries to move his table lamp from its rightful position on the table.

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...


  1. Hiya, you have such a stunning resource, on it! In addition to that I want to ask you a question which is highly interesting for me. Is this a premium blog theme that you can purchase or this one is a common one?

    1. Hi Martin - thanks for the kind words - I'm "lucky" o have a long train commute which gives me ample time to reflect on these great films.

      The theme is a standard Google Blogger theme - the colours just happen to go well with the blacks and whites,sepia and other tints.

      Best wishes