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In a none-too-prestigious side show in Budapest, a performer named Cock Robin has a jealous lover who plays Salome in a decapitation-illusion act. He also has a vicious rival in a quack medicine show entrepreneur who plots to rig the act so to do in Robin. Written by
Down from the hills of Hungary, handsome John Gilbert (as Cock Robin), a carnival's "ballyhoo man," enthralls patrons with a parade of freakish females - including a woman suspended in mid-air, the disembodied hand of Cleopatra, a "half lady" (she never gets "cold feet"), a human-headed spider woman, and a submerged mermaid queen. "Now I know why the divers go down," quips Mr. Gilbert when presenting the latter. A highlight of "The Show" is its reenactment of the legendary "Salome" story...
As you may recall, after a veiled dance, "King Herod" promises to grant the sexy damsel's any desire. Of course, Renée Adorée (as Salome) asks to be served the head of "Jokanaan" (aka John the Baptist) on a sliver platter. And so Gilbert, disguised with wig and beard as the Biblical hero, appears to be decapitated (through stage trickery)...
Off stage, Mr. Gilbert attracts many women. After Ms. Adorée increases her amorous off-stage plays for him, boyfriend Lionel Barrymore (as "The Greek") gets jealous. Under Tod Browning's obviously skilled direction, Mr. Barrymore plots to make Gilbert's illusion of decapitation a reality. Barrymore has also murdered the wealthy sheep-herding father of Gilbert's girlfriend Gertrude Short (as Lena), and gets Gilbert blamed for the crime...
"You were expecting Lon Chaney..." but, Gilbert is excellent as the handsome pitchman and performer. In this story, he was probably a better pick than Mr. Chaney - although director Browning and company could have conceivably altered it for the man of a thousand faces. Both actors were riding waves of popularity, rising to at #5 (Chaney) and #9 (Gilbert) in 1927's annual "Quigley Poll" of box office stars. Also watch for Polly Moran as an expressive carnival spectator.
******* The Show (1/22/27) Tod Browning ~ John Gilbert, Renee Adoree, Lionel Barrymore, Edward Connelly
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