Monday, July 8, 2024

NFR Project: 'Show People' (1928)


Show People

Dir: King Vidor

Scr: Agnes Christine Johnston, Laurence Stallings, Wanda Tuchock, Ralph Spence

Pho: John Arnold

Ed: Hugh Wynn

Premiere: November 20, 1928

79 min.

Marion Davies is best known for the career she didn’t quite have.

At the age of 17, the up-and-coming young actress was working as a chorus girl in the Ziegfield Follies when she met 51-year-old newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. They became involved, and stayed together until Hearst’s death in 1951.

This association meant that her film career was ably publicized. By 1924, she was listed as the number-one actress in Hollywood. However, despite her talent as a comic actress, Hearst insisted on her playing dramatic roles, which she did unsuccessfully. Finally, in 1937, frustrated, she retired from the screen.

So her filmography is a bit spotty, with her comic performances being her best-remembered. Show People is one of her best. Surprisingly, the story mirrors her movie-making experience. Young Peggy Pepper comes from Georgia with her father to break into the big time in Hollywood. She gets her start, but it’s not the kind she hoped for. Instead of being launched as a big dramatic star, she gets work with a comedy studio, and soon she is taking seltzer in the face and running away from comic policemen. (The story is said to be based on Gloria Swanson’s early movie work.)

When she does get her big dramatic break (at “High Art Studios”), she soon forgets her former life, including the comic actor who loves her, Billy Boone. Aloof and haughty, she gets involved with a phony count who also acts the Latin lover onscreen. It takes Billy’s interference in her coming wedding to snap her out of it and realize where her true feelings lie.

The movie is filled with cameos. Norma Talmadge, Douglas Fairbanks, John Gilbert, and William S. Hart all make an appearance. Peggy meets Chaplin, and does not recognize him until he’s left the scene, after which she faints. She even meets herself! With clever editing, she can be seen on the same screen as “Marion Davies,” to whom she reacts scornfully.

Davies is an adept comic actress, able to inspire laughter despite her obvious good looks. The pace of the film is light and breezy, giving us a relatable heroine who’s not afraid to make fun of herself. If she had been allowed to fully express her comic skills, her reputation might be quite different today.

The NFR is one writer’s attempt to review all the films listed in the National Film Registry in chronological order. Next time: Steamboat Willie.

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