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A poor clerk pretends that he has lots of money.


Bryan Foy


George Kelly (play)


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Cast overview:
Franklin Pangborn ... Aubrey Piper
Helen Ferguson ... Amy Piper
Clara Blandick ... Mrs. Fisher - Aubrey's Mother-in-Law
Ruth Lyons Ruth Lyons ... Marian


A poor clerk pretends that he has lots of money.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Comedy | Short







Release Date:

30 January 1930 (USA) See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Warner Bros. See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Vitaphone)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Vitaphone production reels #3674-3675 See more »


I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles
Music by James Kendis, James Brockman and Nat Vincent
Lyrics by John W. Kellette
Played during the opening credits and at the end
Sung briefly by Franklin Pangborn
See more »

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User Reviews

Portrait of a Braggart
24 July 2011 | by wmorrow59See all my reviews

Under the opening credits of this Vitaphone short we hear the strains of "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles," while on the title card we see an illustration of a bull. As soon as the sketch's central character Aubrey Piper is introduced, we realize that these audio-visual choices are deliberate and ironic. Aubrey (played by Franklin Pangborn) is a braggart, always exaggerating his status and his accomplishments. His mother-in-law, who has a low opinion of him, refers to his constant boasting as "blowing bubbles." You'll notice this also explains the presence of the bull.

Aubrey Piper was the creation of George Kelly, a playwright who wrote a number of satirical comedies sharply critical of the middle-class way of life. Kelly's biggest Broadway success, his 1924 comedy The Show Off, was built around Piper and his bragging. The play was a big hit in its day and proved to have impressive staying power, for in later years it was frequently revived on stage and also filmed several times: in 1926 with Ford Sterling, in 1934 with Spencer Tracy, and in 1946 with Red Skelton. (And it was broadcast on TV in 1955, in an adaptation starring Jackie Gleason.) Clearly there's something about the central character that has appealed to audiences over the years. Perhaps people see him as a familiar American type, reminiscent of a relative or someone they knew at school. The role has also attracted top stars of the stage, screen and TV. For actors it seems that the trick to portraying Aubrey Piper is one of balance: if he's too full of himself he'll come off as obnoxious, but a good performer can balance the character's obvious flaws with more appealing qualities and manage to make him likable, or at least bearable.

Aubrey Piper's full-length vehicle The Show Off grew out of a one-act play called "Poor Aubrey," which Kelly wrote as a vaudeville sketch. This Vitaphone short captures that sketch and is, in a sense, a precursor to the many versions of The Show Off that followed. It's moderately entertaining, but for me the biggest drawback is the casting of the crucial role of Aubrey. Normally I enjoy Franklin Pangborn, in fact he's one of my favorite comic character actors. He made a career of playing fussy, dithering gents, often hotel managers, floorwalkers, or sellers of high-end goods. He could perform a magnificent double-take, and hold his own opposite the best comedians in the business, but he's not the right person to play Aubrey Piper. From the first moment of this short, when he and his wife Amy (Helen Ferguson) begin bickering, Pangborn strikes a tone that feels more harsh than funny, and he never varies from it. The Pipers are expecting company, a well-off friend of Amy's, and they're both tense about the visit. But Aubrey is insufferable. He's vain about his toupee, he fusses with houseplants and books, and he insists on uncovering the Victrola so that their guest can see it. When Amy's friend Marian arrives and Amy steps away briefly, Aubrey seizes the moment and boasts to her about his business success, his possessions, etc. He also claims that he has graciously permitted his mother-in-law to reside in his house, although in fact she is the homeowner who permits HIM to live there! Eventually, thanks to his mother-in-law and his own foolishness, Aubrey gets his comeuppance.

Surely this material was funnier on stage. Here, with the miscast Pangborn in the role, the appeal of Aubrey Piper is a mystery. There's no nuance in his performance, no charm. It's impossible to imagine why Amy stays with him or why, in a larger sense, audiences have been so drawn to productions of The Show Off over the years. In a film that runs about fourteen minutes the character wears out his welcome very quickly. In any case this short does hold some interest for theater historians, and the ladies are good; Ferguson makes a nice impression as the long-suffering Amy, while mother-in-law Clara Blandick went on to Hollywood immortality as Auntie Em in The Wizard of Oz. As for Mr. Pangborn, well, I'll continue to enjoy his splendid moments in such comedies as Easy Living and The Bank Dick, great movies in which he was perfectly cast.

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