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John Gilbert plays Cock Robin in this very archetypal Tod Browning
melodrama. Robin is a showman whose act includes having his head
chopped off and whose show includes a mermaid, a woman's head pinned on
a spider web and the living hand of Cleopatra, which conveniently
collects the tickets of the patrons.
Lionel Barrymore is an evil character named the Greek, who tries to pin a murder he commits out of greed, on Robin, who despite being innocent is a rough, energetic man who looks out for himself first. Robin's girl named Salome, well-played by Renee Adoree, is not quite the unsympathetic vamp he thinks her to be. She has a secret that will in the end lead him to a true purpose for his life.
This is really one of Browning's best films. His direction is inspired. The sets and design are meticulous and create a perfectly sinful world for the heroes to live in. He uses some surprising low and high camera angles and the cutting is fast-paced.
While the story is similar to most Browning-Chaney films of the period, this one comes off better. John Gilbert is excellent and proves an asset whereas if Chaney had played the part, he probably would have made it too much Chaney. Robin is a handsome, fiery man and Gilbert is perfect for the part.
This is one of only two MGM silents that Browning made without Chaney and it's a shame he didn't make more solo efforts. Not that their collaboration was not great, but this film seems to have freed up Browning just a bit more for him to be a little more creative in his own ways. Freaks may be the penultimate Browning film, but this one ranks right near the top of his catalog.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This interesting but relatively obscure circus drama, a milieu which
director Browning truly made his own, is well-mounted in MGM's
typically high style. While perhaps not as grotesque as his Lon Chaney
collaborations, the film manages to build much of the same atmosphere;
the early freak show sequence and recurring decapitation routines are
on hand to create the necessary frisson.
The three leads - John Gilbert and Renee Adoree, reunited after the massive success of King Vidor's THE BIG PARADE (1925), and Lionel Barrymore, effectively stepping in for Chaney (though he is made to be more of an out-and-out villain) - are nicely filled. Unfortunately, the belated subplot involving Adoree's secret takes up a good chunk of the film's second half, wearing the film down somewhat in the process, but it eventually packs a nice emotional punch. Then there is the typical Browning finale where the villain dies, more or less by his own doing, at the hands of a vicious animal (in this case, an iguana).
As I said about James Whale, I wonder whether Warners should consider releasing a "Tod Browning Collection" (ideally as part of their prestigious "TCM Archives" series) somewhere down the line: this would certainly fit the bill nicely, along with some of his other non-Chaney MGM films.
This one, directed by Tod Browning, is a perfect Gilbert silent. It
takes place in the sort of sordid and atmospheric world Browning loved
-- in this case in Budapest, surrounding a "Palace of Illusions" (an
Gilbert is re-teamed with Renee Adoree, and once again they work extremely well together. He's the barker and all-round utility performer (he has to be John the Baptist and take part in the beheading trick that's part of their little Salome play). It's part of the fable-quality of the story that he's simply given the name Cock Robin, from the nursery rhyme:
Who killed Cock Robin? I, said the sparrow, With my little bow and arrow ....
Adoree is the cooch dancer who plays Salome, and that's what she's called too. Lionel Barrymore is "The Greek," a brutal thief and murderer, who has taken on the role of her boyfriend. It isn't very clear how far this has gone, but it seems to be something new. He is basically forcing himself on her. She used to be involved with Gilbert, and still carries a torch for him. The jealous and dangerous Greek has a watchful eye out for any signs of rekindling, and a knife at the ready (Gilbert has a knife too; I said it was sordid).
Gilbert is a womanizer with no respect whatsoever for the female sex: he's perfectly willing to marry a stupid country girl who has just been orphaned, to get hold of her father's "whole hillsides of sheep." He's catnip to the female sex, and every woman in the movie desires him (this was the height of Gilbert's career and MGM was still handling him just right).
The story is compelling and very well plotted. You only have to accept a conveniently timed melodrama natural death and (this is only a problem now, with nature docs on TV) that a perfectly ordinary iguana is actually an extremely poisonous lizard from Madagascar. Everything else is pretty convincing. You think for a considerable time that you're in an early Von Stroheim film, a colorful movie in a convincing European setting, without a heart. You begin to think there's not a speck of redeemable stuff in Gilbert.
But the movie has something up its sleeve, and in the second half you may find yourself sobbing.
Nobody in silent films ever looked at a woman the way Gilbert did. The cynical look where he's on to the dame and her games, undresses her with his eyes, and sees all the bad in her .... that Valentino could do. But the other look, where he comprehends a woman in all her power and goodness, or absorbs all her allure like a blow, is Gilbert's alone.
To know something of his history is to know that his mother was a popular actress who abandoned him to relatives and strangers while she went on seedy tours with a repertory company. He never had a loving mother or, it would seem, a loving substitute. His first girlfriend, another actress, died horribly at Ince studios when a balcony set collapsed.
Gilbert was a ladies' man, and there were a lot of women in his life, but he seems to have genuinely adored them and always relied on their kindness and warmth to him. Women dug him right back, in life and on the screen. He's able to put all his emotional need into one intense look from those dark and brooding eyes.
Adoree isn't our present idea of a beauty. She has -- as we see in her Salome dance in a two piece Harem outfit -- no waist. But it doesn't matter a speck here, as it adds to the ordinariness and seediness of this claustrophobic world of the urban poor. And her acting is highly effective. Actually, so is all the acting. There's an ensemble of very able players in a lot of colorful and distinctive parts.
The print TCM showed is terrific, and it has an unusually effective new orchestral score by Darrell Raby. This one was well worth copying and will be well worth keeping.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"The Show" is one of Browning's best, but the happy ending seems tacked
on. Viewers will be reminded of Fritz Lang's "Liliom" and Edmund
Goulding's "Nightmare Alley" for the carnival setting as well as the
fatalistic, doomed aura that hovers around the main character. Like
Charles Boyer and Tyrone Power, John Gilbert's Cock Robin is physically
arrogant, cruel, feverishly ambitious and greedy, and very slightly
crazy. (The main character of Pasolini's "Accatone!" wouldn't be a bad
comparison either, minus the carnival setting.) Yet it was only in
Lang's French production that the inevitable sorry ending was allowed
to play itself out. That's Hollywood, as they say! Gilbert, with his
swaggering good looks, is perfect. Rumor has it that he resented being
cast in such a louche role, and this perhaps was a positive, as he
conveys great anger simmering just beneath the surface. I agree with a
previous reviewer that Lon Chaney in the role would have been a bit
much. Barrymore controls his natural hamminess, and Adoree brings some
nuance to her role as Salome. The excellent Budapest sets are detailed
and impeccably squalid and Browning's setups convey just the right
touch of eeriness.
Once again, we're left to wonder what happened to the sensuality, down-and-dirtiness (this was an MGM production!), and creepy allure of movies once sound came in.
JOHN GILBERT was toward the end of his career as a romantic leading man
at the age of 27 in THE SHOW, co-starring once again with his leading
lady from THE BIG PARADE, RENEE ADOREE.
*****POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD*****
The story has moments of interest when it deals with Gilbert's role as a circus barker for side shows that attract curious crowds with their freakish overtones. He himself is involved in an act that involves the deft use of trickery when Salome (danced by Adoree) requests his head on a silver platter. The act requires a fake sword to be substituted for the real thing and a trap door that lets him escape the executioner's ax. Meanwhile, Gilbert has arranged to take care of the money entrusted to him by a love-struck girl whose father has been murdered by scheming LIONEL BARRYMORE. For bad guy Gilbert, guarding the money is like taking candy from a baby and doesn't fool his sweetheart, RENEE ADOREE who questions his motives.
LIONEL BARRYMORE is the stage colleague intent on stealing the money for his own selfish goals. His scheme eventually backfires and, for the love of an honest woman, Gilbert returns the stolen money to the police in time for a happy ending.
It's all done in the usual melodramatic style associated with silent films of this period, but the story maintains interest throughout and builds to a satisfying conclusion with Gilbert and Adoree in a final clinch.
Summing up: Not quite as bold and startling in nature as some of Browning's other works, but very watchable. Gilbert is intense as the morally bankrupt anti-hero who is reformed by the love of a good woman. It's not his usual romantic role and he was reportedly not too happy with the assignment. At this point in his career, he and MGM head Louis B. Mayer were not on good terms personally.
Trivia note: Interesting to see an ambulatory Barrymore before arthritis crippled him. The story is not quite strong enough if it's shock appeal you're looking for.
Although he was heading for a colossal fall from grace (thanks to both the advent of sound and the animosity of his boss, Louis B. Mayer), John Gilbert was riding high in 1927. His first release for the year, The Show, was a surprising success, despite its nightmarish carnival setting that echoes both Liliom and Nightmare Alley. Although Gilbert's part is totally unsympathetic, he handles it well, and easily manages to steal the film from his co-stars, Renée Adorée (who is most unflatteringly photographed and costumed), and Lionel Barrymore (who gives his heavy plenty of presence and charisma even though the role is disappointingly small). Mind you, Edward Connelly, who was so effective as Cardinal Richelieu in Gilbert's Bardelys the Magnificent (1926), does his hammy best to upstage the stars here and almost succeeds. But thanks to stacks of indulgent close-ups, John Gilbert wins the acting stakes all right. Nonetheless he is over-shadowed by cult director Tod Browning's many atmospherically noirish trappings and effects, including a staged John-the-Baptist beheading and a line-up of fake freaks such as a spider woman (Edna Tichenor), a mermaid (Betty Boyd) and a half-lady (Zalla Zarana). John Arnold, who was placed in charge of M-G-M's camera department in 1929, has photographed the film in an appropriate, heavily noir style.
Show, The (1927)
*** 1/2 (out of 4)
Rare and nearly forgotten film from Tod Browning that would play a major influence on his film Freaks. Set inside a Budapest carnival, a love triangle develops between a handsome actor (John Gilbert), a crazy Greek (Lionel Barrymore) and the woman (Renee Adoree) they both love. Browning's direction is top notch here and I might go as far to say this is the best directing I've seen from him. As usual with his silent pictures, the mood and atmosphere is very rich and thick. The meanness and weirdness of the characters and story leaps right off the screen with some very memorable scenes including a decapitation. There's a scene on the stage where Barrymore plots to kill Gilbert that is highly intense and perfectly staged. The three leads are all terrific and the inside jokes about Gilbert's good looks are funny as well. "Freaks" like the Human Spider, the Half Woman and a mermaid also make an appearance.
Wilkommen to Hungary, to Budapest more precisely, during the old times
when the circus shows flourished in Centre Europe, those special,
bizarre and popular amusements that the common people liked very much.
There is in the town one of those special circus shows, "The Palace Of
Illusions", where the coarse masses can enjoy strange attractions like
the little lady suspended in mid-air, the living hand of Cleopatra (!)
or the great Terpsichorean tragedy with Salome dancing before King
Herod and not to mention the chance to watch freaks as Zela, the half
lady, Arachnida, the human spider and Neptuna, the queen of the
The ballyhoo man at "The Palace Of Illusions" is Herr Cock Robin ( Herr John Gilbert ); he will lead the audience into the mysteries and strange performances of the show, an irresistible master of ceremonies who is the object of desire of every woman, including the other circus performers, and he is not troubled if those yearning for him are half women, prostitutes or peasants.
"The Show",directed by Herr Tod Browning in the silent year of 1927, is one of those silent delicatessen treats that this German count appreciates more and more each time that it is shown at the Schloss theatre; it is not necessary to say at this German point that the binomials circus show/Tod Browning is a unique film genre that this German aristocrat savours as if it were Beluga caviar.
The film has many elements that make it special; an impeccably decadent atmosphere both in the circus show and the Budapest streets and a gloomy, menacing mood in the film story, all expertly supported by the art direction of Herr Richard Day and Herr Cedric Gibbons and the cinematography of Herr John Arnold. The main character of the film, Cock Robin, played by Herr John Gilbert suits him especially well ( it seems that the American actor didn't like very much this obscure role, a contrast indeed with his popular roles as a matinée idol ) as an unscrupulous riffraff who only cares for himself and uses the women for his own selfish purposes, economic as well as sexual, leaving aside trifles as love and such minor kinds of things; that is to say, his ethics are the same as this German count but in the Hungarian style.
Herr Gilbert 's character astonishes the audience with his wickedness, selfishness and even brutality, a character who gives no chance to regeneration during the whole film until the end of the oeuvre when some kind of human feeling finally appears thanks to the tenacity of his circus show companion, Dame Salome ( Dame Renée Adorée ) The ending, by the way, seems abrupt and imposed, and contrary to the gloomy essence of the story.
The film also scores with the disturbing presence of Herr Lionel Barrymore as "The Greek", the wicked owner of the circus show who will hatch an evil and bloody scheme against Herr Robin who is distracted by problems with money and women. Herr Barrymore uses some circus show tricks in order to get rid of his rival but when the one plan fails, the "Greek" will have to use another simple but effective method, this time with the help of a restless lizard.
Once the circus show has ended, don't forget to pay tribute, after having paid the tickets, natürlich! , to Herr Browning and his wonderful circus films full of outsiders, wicked people and indescribable freaks, the perfect and thrilling companion for a bored aristocrat, indeed!.
And now, if you'll allow me, I must temporarily take my leave because this German Count must go on with the silent show.
Herr Graf Ferdinand Von Galitzien http://ferdinandvongalitzien.blogspot.com/
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Just finished reading a piece on John Gilbert and was disappointed
that, at first, he hadn't liked all those gritty character parts he
played in the early talkies - that they were suggested by Irving
Thalberg who felt Gilbert was capable of digging deep. Maybe that is
what happened here although it was very hard for John Gilbert to leave
his "Great Lover" image behind in the silents, the critics refused to
let him and were scathing of his his performances when he tried to give
his parts dimension. With the death of Valentino the path was open for
another "great lover" and reviewers felt Gilbert fitted the bill but
just let him diverge from it and reviewers showed their wrath. Variety,
in it's review of "The Show" predicted that his popularity with women
audiences would be hurt and that type of character (he played an
egotistical womanizer) could only hurt his appeal. It is interesting
that in the early 1930s when his career had well and truly hit the
skids, being "forced" to take on more grittier roles, he gave some of
his best performances.
In "The Show" he plays Cock Robin (I didn't think of the nursery rhyme, I took the name to mean "Cock of the Walk", a strutting dandy) - "the ballyhoo man at the Palace of Illusions" who knew how to get the ladies - and their money. Like "The Unknown" of the same year, this is the dark side of carnival life as only Tod Browning could show it. He spent most of his teenage years travelling with circuses and was able to conjure up all the sordidness and eerie atmosphere of them in his movies. In "The Show" all is illusion - Zelda, the half lady, the bizarre Arachnida, the human spider and Neptuna, Queen of the Mermaids.
Salome (Renee Adoree who had been a circus performer in her youth) is the carnival dancer who, each night, performs the Dance of the Seven Veils to receive John the Baptist's head on a charger. The crowd go wild, what with the huge sword slicing through solid wood, but of course it is just an illusion. Salome loves Robin and has a full time job keeping his fans at bay, but he has already discarded her and besides, "The Greek" (Lionel Barrymore in another villainous role) looks upon her as his property (although you don't know how deeply they are involved) and is willing to kill to keep her his. But not this particular night - he is on the trail of a jovial sheep seller and shoots him in an alley, all for nothing as his daughter, Lena, is at home looking after Poppa's money.
Along comes Robin who has a date with her and is quick to propose marriage when he sees all that money. John Gilbert is just tremendous as the amoral barker - the confrontation between him and Salome, where only her continued pleas for help stop him from disfiguring her, is extremely powerful. Which makes his redemption a bit hard to believe. Salome takes Robin to hide out in her rooms (the police are linking the murder to the missing money and Robin is now wanted) and he meets an elderly blind man who insists Salome read his son's letters to him. Again an illusion, his son is in prison waiting to be hung, not the dashing captain whose exploits make the old man so proud. There is one final surprise which, unbelievably, shows Robin that Salome is a jewel among women.
Also creeping around in the film is a monstrous iguana that a "snake oil" salesman uses to illustrate the positives of his product. Another illusion and this time the crowd are not buying that the lizard is a killer but in a perverse twist the lizard proves to be deadly. Dorothy Sebastian has an unbilled part as a Salvation Army girl helping Lena recover her money.
Turner Classic Movies presented this silent film on TV for the first time because their was a musical sound track added which made the silent film more interesting and enjoyable. John Gilbert,(Cock Robin),"The Captain Hates the Sea" is part of a Circus Show that presents a skit involving some magical tricks with a lady disappearing and being raised in the air. The gal in the film is Renee Adoree,(Salome),"All of the Flesh" who works in the circus act as a belly dancer and requests the head of a certain man on a platter which is quickly arranged in this skit for the circus audiences. Lionel Barrymore, (The Greek),"Dragon Seed" plays the evil guy with piercing eyes and sinister looks and money crazy. John Gilbert in real life had a torrid affair with Greta Garbo and was left at the alter which devastated John and his career went down hill and MGM made sure his career was over. John was the next Rudolph Valentino and was adored by all the young ladies during this period of time. Enjoyable film Classic with great veteran actors from the past. Enjoy
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