Ford Sterling and Louise Brooks in “The Show Off”

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of the 1926 silent comedy The Show Off.

Directed by Malcolm St. Clair, it was an adaptation of George Kelly’s 1924 Broadway stage hit. The 1926 one was the first of three different screen versions (the best known today is probably the 1946 one with Red Skelton. I blogged about that one here.). Typically nowadays this version is marketed as a Louise Brooks vehicle, which is intelligent marketing I guess, but inaccurate — her character is about fourth or fifth in importance to the plot.

Ford Sterling - The Show Off (1926)

The movie actually belongs to Ford Sterling as the obnoxious, trouble-making titular Show Off Aubrey Piper. It’s truly interesting to see Sterling, whom we know best as the star of very broad slapstick comedy shorts, play a “real” part in a feature length movie. And it’s very good casting. Sterling reminds me a but of the later Joe E. Brown, a master of hilarious face-making. Brooksie plays his sister-in-law who helps smooth over Aubrey’s pecadilloes. The plot concerns all the trouble he causes for the family he marries into, including spoiling his young brother-in-law’s chance to sell his big invention. Until the very qualities that bug most people about him turn the tables and save the day. Film allowed the director to include all sorts of funny stuff alluded to in the playscript but impossible to stage in a theatre, in particular a sequence featuring Aubrey’s hilariously terrible driving, which culminates in a disastrous car accident. Well worth seeing!

To learn more about silent and slapstick film please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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