When future generations want to know what Hollywood of the late 1920s was like, they need look no further than SHOW PEOPLE, King Vidor's joyous tribute to the art of the silent clowns, shot on location at the MGM Studio and featuring cameos by many real-life stars, including Charlie
Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks.
Southern belle Peggy Pepper (Marion Davies) comes to Hollywood from Georgia, intent on becoming a famous dramatic actress. She meets "custard pie artist" Billy Boone (William Haines), who helps get her a bit part in a slapstick comedy he's making for Comet Studio, but she thinks she's in a serious
drama and starts crying when she's sprayed in the face with water. Billy talks Peggy into staying, and with time, she becomes an accomplished comedienne. The preview of her first film is a smash and Peggy becomes a huge star. She gets a contract from the prestigious High Arts Studio, and Billy is
crushed when Peggy sadly leaves him behind to make "serious" pictures.
At her new studio, Peggy is romantically pursued by her handsome leading man Andre (Paul Ralli), who claims to be a Count. He tells her to dump her old friends and changes her name to Patricia Pepoire. When Billy calls and asks Peggy out to dinner, she blows him off, and when they bump into each
other while shooting on location, she insults and humiliates him. However, Peggy's pictures begin to bomb, as she's become too much of a snob and her fans start to turn on her. When Billy learns that Peggy and Andre are to be married, he sneaks into her house on her wedding day and tells her that
Andre isn't a real Count. He sprays water in her face and she throws a custard pie at him, but it hits Andre, who storms out. Peggy calls off the wedding and arranges for Billy to get a big role in a movie directed by King Vidor (Himself). While shooting the scene, Peggy comes out and kisses
Billy, and they continue smooching even after Vidor yells "Cut."
One of the last silent films made by MGM, SHOW PEOPLE is an absolute delight from start to finish. It's one of the best Hollywood-on-Hollywood films ever made and offers fascinating and historically invaluable behind-the-scenes glimpses at the inner-workings of a real movie studio. The opening
alone is a marvelous documentary time-capsule, as Peggy drives through Hollywood (replete with trolley cars!) looking at the sights, including the front gates of Paramount, Fox, and Warner Bros. When she reaches MGM, she sees John Gilbert drive inside. Later, Charlie Chaplin asks for her
autograph, but she doesn't recognize him without his Little Tramp makeup, and ignores him. Other stars who appear as themselves during a famous tracking shot in the studio commissary include Douglas Fairbanks and legendary western star William S. Hart. There's even a surreal scene where "Peggy
Pepper" meets the real Marion Davies on the backlot (and ridicules her!), and the wonderful scene where Vidor plays himself spoofing his WWI epic THE BIG PARADE (1925).
The film offers much more besides star-gazing, however, as it lovingly re-creates the knockabout Keystone Kops-style two-reelers and hilariously contrasts theme with overwrought drawing-room melodramas featuring men in tuxedos and suffering ladies in ermine. Vidor even mocks his own "serious and
artistic" dramatic films, as when a clip from his BARDELYS THE MAGNIFICENT (1926) starring John Gilbert is shown and Billy calls it a "punk drama." Another satirical shot at Gilbert is taken by the fact that the pompous and conceited Andre is a dead ringer for him. Marion Davies's performance is
wonderfully natural, proving once again that she was not the untalented stereotype which history has sometimes made her out to be. Her comedic skills are consummate and her dramatic screen-test is a classic, as she scrunches up her nose and purses her lips (a la Mae Murray, who makes a cameo)
trying to look "serious," then smashes her head into a wall and slaps herself so that she'll cry. In its own way, the film makes as good an argument for the importance of comedies over dramas as does Preston Sturges's SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS (1941). Its only real message is as sweet and simple as the
line that Billy delivers to Peggy when she puts down comedies and he says: "Don't be silly. Make 'em laugh and you make 'em happy."
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- Rating: NR
- Review: When future generations want to know what Hollywood of the late 1920s was like, they need look no further than SHOW PEOPLE, King Vidor's joyous tribute to the art of the silent clowns, shot on location at the MGM Studio and featuring cameos by many real-li… (more)