The Show Off

Director: Malcolm St. Clair

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

The Show Off Based on a comic play, The Show Off (1926) is a silent film set in Philadelphia & dedicated to the memory of Betsy Ross, opening with a patriotic tour of the city, concluding with a visit to Mr. Aubrey Piper who, in his own mind if no place else, was the most important figure of all just recounted.

Outdoor shots of Philadelphia in days when the automobile hadn't quite completely supplanted the horse is alone worth admission. Piper shows up at his railroad office job forty-five minutes late & struts to his desck self-importantly to read the stock report & the funny pages of his paper, while other men work around him.

A secretarial flapper is selling raffle tickets to win an automobile to office workers. The funds from the raffle are to go to war orphans & widows. Our important man buys one raffle ticket then tears it up, claiming he really must support orphans & widows, but wouldn't know what to do with another car, when in fact he has none.

He then braggingly shows the young woman a ring he has recently bought for "the lucky girl" Amy Fisher "of the Fishers of Germantown." The flapper roles her eyes & walks away, at which point Piper puts his raffle ticket back together.

He meets Amy (Lois Wilson) for lunch & gives her the ring, but seems worried that a police officer is watching him. Amy is not of the Fishers of Germantown at all, but extremely humble folks.

Amy's brother is Joe (Gregory Kelly) an amateur inventor with a small lab in the basement. Their mother is having Clare the beautiful girl next door over for dinner, obviously encouraging the possibility of an engagement between her & Joe.

Except for sweet Amy herself, the whole family, plus the girl next door, find Piper's loud laugh grating & his constant bragging an annoyance. Amy alone is enamored of him; there's no accounting for taste.

He has a way of showing up for dates too early so as to horn in on dinners, & eats just about everything. Everyone's polite to him, but mom (Claire McDowell) stares daggers at her daughter.

The Show Off I like the acting in this film. Silent movies required overacting, but comparatively speaking these are naturalistic performances, & the humor is of character rather than slapstick. Aubrey Piper is overdrawn as an annoying windbag, but a large support cast responds to Amy's cretinish boyfriend most believably.

The comedian playing Piper is Ford Sterling, very popular in the 'teens & 'twenties, but lacking the inherent charm of better remembered silent film comedians. He's playing such a worthless piece of gum that it takes a long time to warm to him.

The character he's playing really is a complete ass. He will in time learn to be a better man, but for the bulk of the film I felt pity for Amy for having fallen for such a lying braggart, & he kind of deserved to fall in a sewer hole & be eaten by rats.

Against the wishes of the family, Amy marries this man. She's not stupid & seems not too surprised that the "wonderful love-nest" of a bungalo he had promised her turns out to be a very run-down grimy single room with a murphy bed. On Piper's salary, they're soon evicted even from that.

The comedy of the tale vanishes for a while, as Amy attempts to hold her marriage together & cope with the fact that they're going to have to rely on her family or be homeless, while her husband just keeps on making things worse with his self-important dishonesty.

When boastful Piper's number comes up in the raffle, one wonders if the asshole's luck won't be changing. He tells some whopper about how he came by the car trying to impress the wife & her folks.

During a long comic sequence of Aubrey's horrifically bad driving, he scatters citizens off of sidewalks, goes the wrong way on a one-way street, & injures a cop directing traffic.

He tries to hide the facts from his wife that he got himself in terrible trouble with the law. The cover story he concocts for the family about the day makes him seem a nutter, & Clara next door sums up the heroic tale as "Applesaucer!"

Joe's girl Clara is played by the tremendously sensually skillful actress Louise Brooks, who even as a "minor" support player commands every scene she's in.

The Show OffIn another unexpectedly weighty turn of events in a mostly light film, Amy's father (Gregory Kelly) falls ill & is taken to the hospital. Mom speaks the cruelest line in the film when she tells Aubrey Piper, "It's a pity it wasn't you," as she sets out for the hospital, where her husband soon dies.

The family in its grief for once shuts Aubrey's mouth for a while, but he's not done being the king of cretins. His next big adventure is explaining in court under oath how he came to run down a policeman in the street.

He retells the heroic tale of having saved a baby & the police officer jaywalking being the cause, & even Amy who has supported him in all his empty dreams & boasts now tries to stop him from telling whoppers while under oath. He's oblivious to the position he's in & behaves abominably.

He gets a five hundred dollar fine or three months in jail. When he brags about his political influence & commands the judge immediately rethink his decision, the judge agrees to do so & changes it to a thousand dollar fine or six months at hard labor.

Couldn't've happened to more deserving chap, but poor Amy hadn't been able to make ends meet on Aubrey's $30 a week, & this new catastrophe is beyond measuring. Joe had gotten a loan from dad just before he died, money originally intended to pay off the house's mortgage. He was to invest it in his invention taking every care not to imperil his mother's house. Now seeing his sister's plight, he gives the whole sum to the court to keep Aubrey out of jail, though it means putting the kabosh on Joe's future, & his mom maybe losing the house.

The Show OffThe newspaper carries the story "Maniac driver saved from jail by brother-in-law." Mom now knows the mortgage money is gone, & to no good purpose, no investment in the invention that might've put them all on easy street.

So this terrible man has rapidly brought down an entire family with his lies & mischief. It finally looks like it is starting to sink in what a monster he has been, & a belated shame puctures his self-agrandizing nature.

Clara from next door gives Aubrey the dressing down no one else has dared, & he hangs his head low. He goes to hide in the basement & begins nosing around Joe's papers & inventions. Next day he makes a presentation to the railroad board, claiming the revolutionary rust preventing formula was invented by a young man under Aubrey Piper's brilliant tutelage.

When his company won't bite, he acts like he's glad. It had only been a matter of faithfulness to the company he already worked for that caused him to come to them first. Now he can feel free to deal with a competitor. His blowhard bluffs & whoppers actually carry some weight in the business world!

While a hard-ass bank officer is foreclosing on the house eager to evict mom & Joe, Aubrey is on his way with the signed papers for the railroad to use Joe's paint formula. He's skipping & happy & taking his time, but he arrives just in time to save the day with a railroad bank draft for fifty thousand dollars, in those days enough to retire on!

All's well that ends well, & as Joe has other ideas in the works, Aubrey as Joe's aggressive representative just might in the future have stuff to brag about which isn't all lies. They'll all have to put up with that horse laugh of his forever, though.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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