splash  The Show-Off is a satiric comedy about an insufferable braggart who disrupts the life of a middle-class family. While remembered today as a Louise Brooks film, The Show-Off is really a vehicle for Ford Sterling, a comedian best remembered for his starring work as a member of the Keystone Kops. As a broad comedian, he is the perfect choice for the role of the titular blowhard Aubrey Piper. Brooks plays a supporting role as the love interest of the boy who lives next door.

Based on a popular stage play by an acclaimed playwright, The Show-Off was considered a prestige project — and thus drew a significant amount of critical attention along with inevitable comparison to its Broadway namesake. Motion Picture News proclaimed, “The picture is funnier than the play.” However, Billboard magazine disapproved, stating the film “has emerged considerably worse for the wear in its trip from the legit to the silver screen.” The critic for the San Jose Evening News countered, adding “The Show-Off is undoubtedly one of the biggest comedy hits of the year.”

John S. Cohen Jr. of the New York Sun wrote, “Directed by Malcolm St. Clair, the film boasts of exceptional naturalistic acting on the part of Ford Sterling, Lois Wilson, Claire McDowell, C. W. Goodrich, Gregory Kelly and – in one sequence – Louise Brooks . . . . Miss Brooks is best in the scene where she burlesques the pantomime employed by Mr. Sterling to describe his automobile experience.”

Famed author Robert E. Sherwood, named it a “recommended” film in McCall’s magazine. Writing in Life, he said the director “has taken a simple play of average American life and made a genuinely tender, touching, sympathetic picture of it”. Sherwood went on to call the film “a worthy reproduction of a great comedy.” Later, in Mirrors of the Year, an annual published in 1927, The Show-Off was deemed “a remarkable artistic achievement” and one of the best films of 1926.

Along with comparison to the play, criticism of The Show-Off also focused on Brooks. The critic for the Ann Arbor Times News thought Brooks almost “ran away with the picture.” While Peggy Patton of the Wisconsin News said Brooks “adds a dash of color to the offering with her daring personality.”

Other critics, however, disagreed — and a number found fault with her appearance. Dorothy Herzog of the New York Daily Mirror wrote “Louise Brooks spitfires, prisses, oogles and calls it a day of heavy emoting. Miss Brooks is a distinct type, but she seems to suffer from inefficient direction and miscasting. She also appears a trifle rounded, for and aft, in this opera, but this may be due to her skin-tight dresses.”

Norbert Lusk of Picture-Play echoed Herzog’s comments, stating “Lois Wilson tossed aside opportunities for shrewd characterization by wearing Paris frocks as a daughter of the Philadelphia poor. Louise Brooks, another little sister of poverty, likewise offended.” Frank Aston of the Cincinnati Post added an exclamation mark with a bit of snark when he noted, “And henceforth and forever when we think of The Show-Off we shall picture Louise Brooks and her display of hosiery.”

STORY SYNOPSIS:
“Aubrey Piper, a mere clerk at the offices of the Pennsylvania Railroad, poses as an important executive to his sweetheart, Amy Fisher, by blustering, bullying, and showing off continually. Though all the members of her family are contemptuous of Piper, Amy marries him; 3 months later she is fully aware of his faults. To help his son Joe continue work on his invention (a rust-preventing paint), Pop Fisher gives him the money saved for the mortgage and shortly afterward dies of a stroke. Aubrey wins a Ford in a raffle; and while taking it out for a spin, he knocks down a traffic policeman; Joe is forced to pay his fine with the mortgage money. Realizing the tragedy he has brought upon Amy’s family, Aubrey visits the directors of a steel company and by bluffing sells them Joe’s invention. The coup creates a furore in the Fisher household, happy at last that the “show off” has redeemed himself.”

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  • Promotional Materials
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PRODUCTION HISTORY:
Much of the film was shot in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Exteriors were shot on-location in Philadelphia (notably in its middle-class neighborhoods and at Broad Street Station), with interiors shot in Paramount’s Astoria Studios on Long Island (located at 3412 36th Street in the Astoria neighborhood in Queens).

CAST:

Ford Sterling
Audrey Piper
Lois Wilson
Amy Fisher Piper
Louise Brooks
Clara, Joe’s Girl
Gregory Kelly
Joe Fisher
Claire McDowell
Mom Fisher
C.W. Goodrich
Pop Fisher
Joseph W. Smiley
Railroad Executive

CREDITS:

Studio:
Famous Players-Lasky Corporation
Producer:
Adolph Zukor and Jesse L. Lasky
Associate Producer:
William LeBaron
Director:
Malcolm St. Clair
Writing Credits:
Pierre Collings (screenplay), adapted from the stage play by George Kelly
Format:
Silent – black & white
Cinematography:
Lee Garmes
Film Editor:
Ralph Block
Running Time:
7 reels (6,196 feet)
Copyright:
August 16, 1926 by Famous Players-Lasky Corporation (LP23027)
Release Date:
August 16, 1926
Premiere:

Country of Origin:
United States

ALTERNATE TITLES:
Under its American title, The Show-Off, documented screenings of the film took place in Australia, Canada, China, Czechoslovakia, New Zealand, and the British Isles (England, Isle of Man, and Scotland). Elsewhere, this motion picture was known to have been shown under other-language titles including Moi; Moi… (Belgium); Se chlubit (Czechoslovakia); De Windbuil (Dutch East Indies); Aubreh, sa oled kangelane! (Estonia); Rahamehest (Estonia); Moi; Moi… (France); 駄法螺大当 り (Japan); Før og efter bryllupet (Norway); 쇼 오프 (South Korea), and El Fachendoso (Spain).

STATUS:
The film is extant, and is preserved at the Library of Congress. The Show Off has been released for home video on VHS and DVD, though each is out-of-print.

REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES:
THE SCREEN; Mr. Keaton Again” by Mordaunt Hall (New York Times, August 23, 1926).

TRIVIA: about the film

The Show-Off (1924) was authored by Philadelphia-born George Kelly (1887–1974), an American playwright, screenwriter, director, and actor. Besides being the uncle of the Oscar winning actress Grace Kelly (the future Princess Grace of Monaco), George Kelly was considered by some (Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott, and others) as one of the finest  dramatists of the 1920s — alongside the likes of Sherwood Anderson and Elmer Rice. Besides The Show-Off, Kelly was best known for Craig’s Wife (1925), which won the Pulitzer Prize and was made into a motion picture on three occasions. His first play, The Torch Bearers, was also highly regarded.

The Show-Off was the hit of the 1924 Broadway season, where it ran 571 performances. Famed critic Heywood Broun called it “the best comedy which has yet been written by an American.” The play’s success drew the attention of the motion picture stuudios, and in October, 1925 Paramount had a synopsis of the play written by F. M. Macconnell and others.

— Widely acclaimed, The Show-Off was in the running to receive the 1924 Pulitzer Prize for drama, but last minute dealings denied Kelly the award. According to various books, the Pulitzer drama committee recommended Kelly’s work for the prize, but the higher ranking Pulitzer Advisory board overruled their selection for reasons which were never made clear. One book, Chronicle of the Pulitzer Prizes for Drama: Discussions, Decisions and Documents, notes “In the following year, 1924, the recommendation of the jurors was brief and concise…  ‘The Committee have decided that the Pulitzer Prize for the best current American play should go to The Show-Off by George Kelly. We think this is an extremely good and original American play.’ But before the Advisory Board could discuss the suggestion of the jury, a docent of Columbia University [the institution which awarded the prize], although neither a member of the jury nor member of the Advisory Board, intervened and spoke out against it’s verdict. He ‘wrote privately to (Columbia University) President Butler … to protest the Drama Jury’s selection of George Kelly’s satirical comedy… Instead… (he) called for a prize for Hell-Bent for Heaven, a hillbilly drama set in the Kentucky mountains, by a fellow member of the Columbia faculty, Hatcher Hughes.” Kelly was vindicated two years later when Craig’s Wife won the award.

The Show-Off  enjoyed New York revivals in 1932, 1950, 1967, and 1992, with regional theatrical runs in 1930, 1941, 1975 and 1978. The play was the basis for motion pictures of the same name made in 1926, 1934 (with Spencer Tracy), and 1946 (with Red Skelton), as well as the 1930 film Men Are Like That (directed by Frank Tuttle). There was also a radio adaption in 1953.

— As happened in at least a few instances, a theatrical production of The Show-Off was being staged in major cities at the same time as Paramount’s film version was shown. In San Francisco, California a stage production starring Louis John Bartels  as Aubrey Piper proved especially popular, with the cast of the play invited to view the film when in opened locally. Bartels (who originated the role on Broadway) later went on to act in films, including The Canary Murder Case (1929).

— C.W. Goodrich, who plays Pop Fisher in the film, originated the role on Broadway when it opened at the Playhouse Theater in February of 1924.

The Show-Off is one of two films that co-starred the popular Broadway actor Gregory Kelly (no relation), who died shortly after The Show-Off finished production. Gregory Kelly was the first husband of actress Ruth Gordon.