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.”
“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.”
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).
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).
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.
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“THE SCREEN; Mr. Keaton Again” by Mordaunt Hall (New York Times, August 23, 1926).