Thursday, December 10, 2015

THE SHOW (1927)

A shepherd and his daughter have brought their sheep to the big city (Budapest) to sell them. Lena, the inexperienced girl (Gertrude Short), flirts with handsome Cock Robin (John Gilbert), a "ballyhoo" man for the Palace of Illusions, a combination carnival and freak show. One of his jobs is to play John the Baptist in a short stage show where he gets his head cut off by an executioner, by order of Salome (Renée Adorée), who, offstage, is in love with Gilbert, though a burly thug known as the Greek (Lionel Barrymore) harbors an unsavory desire for her and is jealous of Cock Robin. The shepherd gives his money to Lena for safe keeping while he goes out on the town, then is killed by the Greek in an attempted robbery. The next day, a grieving Lena, assuming that Cock Robin wants to marry her, gives him the money to keep while the police investigate the murder, but Cock is tempted to keep the money for himself.

There is a lot more going on in the narrative of this silent film, including a plotline in which the tough-skinned Salome shows a sentimental side by reading letters to an blind and elderly neighbor from his solider son; he thinks the son is on the battlefield, but he's actually a prisoner condemned to death and she composes fake letters to make him proud of his son. There's also a creepy spider woman named Arachnida, a huge poisonous lizard—remember, if you show us a poisonous lizard in the first act, it's gonna have to bite someone before the end—and a few nice lines, including Salome's warning to her fellow performers about making eyes at Cock Robin: "Keep away from him—you're freaks, not vampires!" There’s a nicely tense scene in which the Greek replaces the fake executioner's sword with a real sword in the John the Baptist beheading, and the finale is fairly thrilling, with a fun last shot. Tod Browning directed—he had flair and a sense of the macabre (DRACULA, FREAKS) but his films sometimes feel a little shaky in plotting and production, though this suffers less from that than his Dracula. The silent acting is solid, with Adorée and Gilbert especially good. [DVD]

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