Friday, 17 May 2013

The Show (1927)

The more I see of John Gilbert, the less I am convinced by him as an actor. In Tod Browning's "The Show" he plays an unsympathetic womaniser carnival player caught between a woman obsessed by him, her man seeking for revenge and an accusation of theft. If I admire the great leading man's choice of part, he chews way too much scenery to be credible or interesting to watch. His performance is one of the best examples of overacting of the late silent period.

The film itself also suffers from a lack of coherence in characterisation: Renée Adorée's Salomé changes (through no fault of her own) from a feisty man hunter to a devoted daughter simply by changing the sets: halfway through the film, we moved from the carnival (typical Browning) to melodrama within Salomé's appartment. This abrupt change in mood and the character's personality does no favours to the film, which works much better in the first half, despite the fact that, at times, it feels more like an amalgamation of ideas Tod Browning had used or would later use in his films. Nevertheless, Adorée was quite lovely and much better than Gilbert, her "The Big Parade" co-star.

The Browning touches in the carnival are wonderful: the strange creatures which antecipate "Freaks" and the atmosphere of, among others, "The Unknown"; and even the acts themselves. The woman-spider is just brilliant and the sword change is a really clever touch. Another positive was Lionel Barrymore's performance as "the Greek". He is truly the highlight of the film - sleazy, devious, and unlike Gilbert, subtle in his performance: no excesses, no hamming. I was just sorry he wasn't more in it.

On a final note, I felt sorry for the poor iguana in the film. To give the idea of a vicious attack, the poor animal was a few times put on a metal plate which was then electrified and I strongly suspect it might not have survived the film...

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