THE SHOW (MGM, 1927), starring John Gilbert, Renee Adoree, and Lionel Barrymore.
John Gilbert had wanted to star in LILIOM, a story about a carnival barker. And he wanted to be the carnival barker. (The 1944 musical CAROUSEL is based on LILIOM.) Instead, Gilbert was offered the part of “Cock Robin” (another carnival barker) in a low-budget film called THE SHOW.
THE SHOW is a quirky Todd Browning film. Browning is best known for his cult classic, FREAKS. In my opinion, there is only one actor who can take a quirky role in a low-budget film and transform it into something exceptional. That actor is John Gilbert, of course. He plays the role of “Cock Robin” to the hilt. Robin is a good-for-nothing womanizer who treats his on-and-off girlfriend (played by Renee Adoree) like dirt. The only character that is meaner than Cock Robin is the one played by Lionel Barrymoore, who is always lurking in the background. No crime is beneath him. Not even murder.
You’ll find many freakish side shows in this carnival film, but the best is a skit between Cock Robin and his girlfriend. He plays John the Baptist and she plays Salome. They stage a fake beheading of “John the Baptist” that almost goes awry.
This movie is like a comic strip with cartoonish characters. The film is weird and funny at the same time. The singular brutal scene is the one depicted in the movie still above. Since this is a silent film, you may not be aware that Cock Robin is cussing, but it’s easy to read his lips.
The film has a surprise ending, but I won’t spoil THE SHOW by describing it. Hopefully, Warner Bros., who owns the film, will release it on DVD.
THE SHOW is a diamond n the rough. With the right musical score, it is side-splitting. I simply love it!
NOTE: It’s a real treat to watch THE SHOW back to back with MAN, WOMAN AND SIN. Jack’s character in the first film is the exact opposite in the second film. In THE SHOW, Jack flirts with a prostitute, looking her up and down, undressing her with his eyes. In MAN, WOMAN AND SIN, Jack visits a whore house, not knowing what to expect. When a prostitute sits on his lap and kisses him, he looks embarassed and awkward. He gets away from the prostitute and runs out the door. It’s hard to believe that the same actor could play such opposing roles equally with ease. But he did!