Show People (1928)

Genres - Comedy  |   Sub-Genres - Film a Clef, Showbiz Comedy  |   Release Date - Nov 20, 1928 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 78 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Janiss Garza

Although newspaper magnate and sometime film producer William Randolph Hearst generally liked to put his mistress, the lovely Marion Davies, in overproduced costume dramas, he enthusiastically embraced the idea of turning the stage comedy Polly Preferred into a satire about Hollywood stardom, and using it as a Davies vehicle. Hearst had a bit of an agenda -- he found the airs put on by some female stars -- and their marriages into semi-royalty -- completely ludicrous. Davies had already proven on screen that she had a flair for comedy; so far her talent for impersonation was common knowledge only amongst her friends. The story to Show People was very loosely modeled on the rise of Gloria Swanson: in one particular scene where she is being interviewed as dramatic actress "Patricia Pepoire," Davies makes it baldy obvious by wickedly vamping the haughty star. Filmgoers of the day knew perfectly well the origin of Davies' quirky mannerisms. That's the beauty -- and also the conundrum -- of Show People today: its spot-on in jokes. To really appreciate the gags to their utmost, you didn't have to be there, but you better have read up on the era. Only those who are extremely familiar with silent films -- and today that means a small group of vintage film fans -- will recognize all the faces seated at the commissary's "star table." Director King Vidor adds a few topical zingers of his own. When Davies' fledgling actress is attending a premiere of her new comedy two-reeler with her co-star Billy Boone (William Haines), the next film shown is Bardelys the Magnificent -- a real Vidor film from 1926. And Vidor also plays himself in the end scene, in which Davies and Haines are reunited on the set of a film about the World War, which is obviously supposed to be Vidor's smash hit The Big Parade. Nevertheless, even those who are only vaguely familiar with film history can enjoy most of Show People because some things remain constant and the mad desire for stardom is one of them. In that way Hollywood really hasn't changed at all, even if the scenery is different. And stars nowadays often make public fools of themselves just as much as Davies' character does here. Perhaps the most ironic statement made by Show People is Peggy Pepper's yearning to become a serious dramatic actress. Later when a film mogul calls her 'on the carpet' because her pompous films are losing her fans, she is dressed in the kind of overblown period costume that Davies could very well have worn in one of her earlier pictures. And, many decades later, history has proven that it wasn't the supposedly "artistic" dramatic films of the silent era that had staying power -- it was the comedies that were eternal. Not surprisingly, most critics agree that Show People is Marion Davies' best film.