Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Show Off

Gregory Kelly (Joe) with Louise Brooks (Clara)

The Show Off (U.S., 1926) directed by Malcolm St. Clair

Despite the crisp, clean print that I rented from, this a cinematic trifle which merely interests the filmgoer (well at least me) because Louise Brooks has a small role in it as the girl next door. Directed by the prolific director/actor/producer Malcolm St. Clair, one wishes the Louise had a more substantial role and more screen time. This was one of her first films and the sixth one she made in 1926 as her career in Hollywood was just beginning.

Finding Lulu on film has been a challenging task. It's difficult to find an American film that has the moral complexity of the Germans films Pandora's Box or The Diary of a Lost Girl.

The main character, Aubrey Piper (the unbearably boorish and untalented Ford Sterling), is a inveterate liar and braggart who works as a clerk yet convinces Amy Fisher (Lois Wilson) his fiancee that he is an up and comer at the Pennsylvania Railroad. He annoys the girl's family with his mooching, braying and bravado, including Amy's brother Joe's girlfriend Clara (Louise Brooks). Much of the film involves the Fisher family bailing Aubrey out of his various economic difficulties.

It does give you a tiny glimpse into urban life in the 1920s - witness Aubrey's driving of his new car in the city - it rattles your teeth just watching him navigate the traffic and other cars in his new jalopy.

I can't help gushing over Brooks, looking beautiful and impossibly glamorous as the working class girl next door in stunning dresses and her shining helmet of black hair. She's utterly wasted here merely presenting a sympathetic and pretty foil to the more central character of Joe Fisher (Gregory Kelly), the aspiring inventor with little luck. Her sweetness, as the good-hearted Clara, is communicated so simply and naturally that it is impossible to watch the other actors without shuddering.

Does Aubrey redeem himself? I will save you the rental fee and say, yes, he does. But it is not worth the effort of watching the film for its almost ninety minutes to see the resolution.


Chris Edwards said...

You're a bit hard on Sterling. The role's fairly thankless, and he certainly was thought of highly enough to work with people like Sennett and Arbuckle, who didn't need to rely on hacks. Ford worked with Clara Bow, too.

Speaking of which, did you watch The Plastic Age on that same disc?

A Lit Chick said...

I guess this is why I feel so attached to both Brooks and Bow as a filmgoer ... (aside from their extraordinary beauty) they seem so modern and natural in a way that many silent film actors do not. I find it difficult to focus on the other actors when they are hamming it up so much.

The Plastic Age is next ... had a crazy weekend and wasn't able to watch both. Do you recommend it?

Chris Edwards said...

You won't like it as much as 'It.' But Clara's pretty juicy in the striped sweater...

...maybe that's why *I* like it.

I can also tell you where to get a couple of other Bow films that are hard to find, though they're not top-rate. Good video store in T.O.

A Lit Chick said...

You mean quality of the films she is in or quality of the DVD? But please pass on info and I will share WITH THE WORLD and my audience of three readers. :)

Chris Edwards said...

24/7 Video, near Church and Wellesley. It has an out-of-print two-fer from Kino: Parisian Love, starring Bow, which is atrocious, and Down to the Sea In Ships, which has Bow in a memorable supporting role (she's about 16 years old). It's not great either, but the LIVE footage of a whale hunt (including scooping out of whale brains) will net this one a review on my site one day.