Sunday, November 4, 2012
King Vidor | Show People
a very serious actressby Douglas Messerli
Agnes Christine Johnston and Laurence Stallings (treatment), Wanda Tuchock (continuity), Ralph Spence (titles), King Vidor (director) Show People / 1928 / the showing I witnessed as at The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Samuel Goldwyn Theater, on Thursday, November 1, 2012
Kevin Browlow, involved with the restoration of this film (as well as Abel Gance’s Napolean) reassured the audience that Swanson never saw this film, but surely she knew about it; Billy Wilder later invited Haines to play a crony of Nora Desmond in another, much darker, Hollywood satire, Sunset Boulevard; noted, by that time, for his interior decoration, Haines turned the role down. Brownlow noted that of all the people he interviewed, Haines was the only one who refused to talk about Show People and other movies of the day.
While there were several successful Davies works before this, including Vidor’s The Patsy, Davies’ career playing in costume epics such as When Knighthood Was in Flower had tarnished her screen image, and, just as Peggy is no longer a screen favorite once she becomes a “serious actress” in the film, Davies was no longer at her peak—probably the source of the myth, played out in Citizen Kane, that
mistress was untalented. Anyone seeing Show
People, however, will realize how mistaken that notion is, for Davies as
the naïve Georgia belle is a natural comic, wonderful in her abilities to
imitate the pretentions of Hollywood movie stars. That toothy smile and
fluttering eyes are enough to send a large audience (in attendance at the
Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater on Thursday night) into laughter (see the
picture of Mae Murray, whom Davies’ imitates, above).
William Haines, playing, as usual, a likeable, attractive, and masculine lead, stands his ground, reminding Peggy ultimately, of her roots, and, thus, saving her from the mistake of marriage to Andre. The fact that Haines was a relatively open homosexual was unthinkable, surely, to his legions of his women fans. But only five years later, when Haines arrested for having sex with a sailor at the Pershing Square YMCA, Louis Mayer gave the actor an ultimatum to enter into a “lavender” marriage (a fake relationship which helped to hide the individual’s sexuality from the public) and give up his relationship with his companion, Jimmie Shields. Haines refused, retiring from the screen despite his continued popularity. Haines remained with Shields until his death in 1973.
Vidor’s comedy is no masterpiece, but it does amiably take its audience along for one last slightly hysterical, silent ride through images of light and darkness.
Los Angeles, November 3, 2012