12 April 2004 | Ben_Cheshire
Delightful silent comedy about Hollywood from King Vidor.
Another superb production from King Vidor (The Big Parade, The Crowd, The Citadel, The Champ, War and Peace, Northwest Passage, Our Daily Bread). Vidor's movies are always well directed (the way the camera tells the story can not be faulted), but sometimes the performances are not good (in Our Daily Bread, for example), or the movie as a whole is not good. But this is one of Vidor's really great ones. Remembered as one of the only occasions Marion Davies was allowed to play comedy by sugar-daddy and executive producer William Randolph Hearst (a.k.a Citizen Kane), also known as her best movie. She plays comedy wonderfully - which makes it a shame that Hearst thought that to be a "serious actress" meant costume dramas.
Which is actually what this movie is about. It has so many elements of Davies' own story, also told in rather comic-book fashion through Susan Alexander in Citizen Kane. Here, Peggy Pepper (Marion Davies) is brought to Hollywood by her fat, seemingly rich, hick father, in order to become a serious movie actress. She gets signed by a certain studio, without knowing they are a comedy studio similar to Mack Sennet's pie-throwing studio, and sort of falls into getting known as a comic actress, as well as falling in love with a kind clown named Billy Boone (William Haines). As in Vidor' The Citadel, she starts off doing the ideal thing (having fun and playing comedy), and gets seduced from this path by others. She is signed by the "High Arts" studio, where she is encouraged to act hoity-toity and associate with the "Hollywood elite," thereby ignoring all her old friends, including Billy Boone.
Show People is a really great comedy - really fun, really well made, well acted, written, and has the delightful value of featuring cameos from many silent legends including Chaplin, Fairbanks, Gilbert, cowboy William S Hart and others. Cameo value is also added by Vidor himself, who pokes fun at himself as a director of war movies when he appears doing just that in the final sequence, and as a director of "high art." At one point Peggy and Billy are at the movies having just seen their latest movie, which is to be followed by Vidor's production "Bardley's the Magnificent" (a real Vidor film from 2 years before). Peggy wants to stay and watch it, and Billy says in not so many words: what would you want to watch such pretensious rubbish for?