Betty Compson more than makes up for sound, photography
When I saw "On With the Show" on Turner Classic Movies, I was very disappointed in the poor quality of the picture and the sound, but was very pleased by some clever dialog, although realizing some of it was not so clever, and I was absolutely in awe of the performance of Betty Compson.
She was not only lovely just to look at, in her big scene near the end, she stole the show.
She was more than charming -- she was adorable.
Joe E. Brown's presence in a movie is usually enough to make me skip it but here he is toned down considerably, is not so silly, and he performs an eccentric dance with a surprising athleticism. I actually liked him in "On With the Show."
Sally O'Neil was surprising. She sounded at first like some precocious child, with little-girlish voice, but when this caterpillar bursts out of her cocoon, she is a star.
One other aspect of this film is almost unique for its time: The cast is integrated. Right there on stage are black dancers with white dancers, although to be accurate there is not interaction between white and black. Still, it was a start.
Ethel Waters made what was apparently her film debut, and surely was an immediate hit since she was already a star in other media.
A 21st century viewer of "On With the Show" must consider context, remember the times in which it was made, during the changeover from silents to talkies, to be able to appreciate it fully.
There were lots of great individual talents involved, and a viewer should try to ignore the poor framing of the scenes and the poor quality of the sound, at least some of which might be because of the age or even generation of the print.
But appreciate the historicity as well as the talent, and you will enjoy "On With the Show" as much as I did.
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