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Side Show (1931)

Passed | | Comedy, Musical | 19 September 1931 (USA)
The delightful Winnie Lightner stars in this comedy-drama as Pat, a traveling carnival troupe member who does everything from high diving to hula dancing, with time left over to romance ... See full summary »


Roy Del Ruth


Billy K. Wells (by) (as William K. Wells), Arthur Caesar (screen play) | 1 more credit »

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Complete credited cast:
Winnie Lightner ... Pat
Charles Butterworth ... Sidney
Evalyn Knapp ... Irene
Donald Cook ... Joe Palmer
Guy Kibbee ... Colonel Gowdy
Matthew Betz ... Tom Whalen (as Mathew Betz)
Fred Kelsey ... Sheriff Hornsby
Tom Ricketts ... Tom Allison


The delightful Winnie Lightner stars in this comedy-drama as Pat, a traveling carnival troupe member who does everything from high diving to hula dancing, with time left over to romance meek and mild Sidney (Charles Butterworth) and try to save her younger sister, Irene (Evelyn Knapp), from a lecherous carny barker. The slapstick big-top finale is a highlight.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Comedy | Musical


Passed | See all certifications »






Release Date:

19 September 1931 (USA) See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Warner Bros. See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Luis Alberni was in studio records/casting call lists and reviews for the role of "The Great Santini," but that role was played by Vince Barnett. One may wonder what other changes were made, since Tom Ricketts is credited onscreen, but is seen for 1 or 2 seconds sitting next to the sheriff during Pat's flaming high dive. On the other side of the sheriff sits Otto Hoffman. Neither Ricketts nor Hoffman have any lines in the Turner library print, which ran 64 minutes. See more »


Featured in Taxi! (1932) See more »


When You Wore a Tulip and I Wore a Big Red Rose
(1914) (uncredited)
Music by Percy Wenrich
Lyrics by Jack Mahoney
Sung by a chorus offscreen, before the birthday party
See more »

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User Reviews

The Barker Reimagined as a Vaudeville Star Vehicle
4 April 2016 | by bensonjSee all my reviews

Film buffs know that there were three official film versions of the play THE BARKER, namely THE BARKER (1928), HOOP-LA (1933) and DIAMOND HORSESHOE (1945), and real film buffs know that Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu made two unofficial remakes, A STORY OF FLOATING WEEDS (1934) and FLOATING WEEDS (1959). But do they know about SIDE SHOW?

Consider this: SIDE SHOW features a traveling carny show called Col. Gowdy's Big City Shows. The barker (Donald Cook) is going with a girl in the show (Winnie Lightner) who he promises to marry but never does. Lightner is putting her younger sister (Evalyn Knapp) through school, and one day Knapp shows up unexpectedly at the show. Lightner tells Cook that while Knapp is around, they have to pretend that they don't have a relationship. She tells the innocent young Knapp that she can not stay with the show, even though Knapp points out that it's summer and there is no school. Lightner is called away for a moment, and while she's gone Knapp asks Col. Gowdy if she can stay, and he says it's OK with him, and when Lightner returns this endorsement from the Colonel is enough for her to relent. Cook starts to fool around with Knapp in a cynical way but then falls in love for real. Later, Knapp is doing a hoochie coochie dance while Cook shills for the show, when a local boy gets fresh with her. Cook starts a fight with the local, all the carny folks yell, "Hey, Rube!" and there's a royal free-for-all involving the whole carny. When the affair between Cook and Knapp is discovered, Lightner makes a big stink, and the two lovers leave the show. Wow. You'll find all these details, some slightly recast, in THE BARKER (and in the close remake HOOP-LA), even the name of the show. This isn't quite a remake of THE BARKER, and the very perfunctory and tacked-on ending here isn't similar to the original film (or the later HOOP-LA alternate), but there are an amazing number of similarities. The explanation is that THE BARKER was made by Warners and so they were free to cannibalize it. The name of the show may have been reused so that existing footage or props showing the name could be reused.

But this film isn't primarily a romantic drama, but more an excuse as a vehicle for three stars, only one of which is part of the love triangle. There's Charles Butterworth, who is given a lot of amusing business, and also has a number of lines that he can only have written himself. Some examples (said more-or-less apropos of nothing): "I know all about love. I learned about love from the state highway commissioner." "Well, Colonel, take it or leave it, I'm going for a bus ride." And "I believe I'd like to have a nice bag of stuffed figs." At one point he reads a long self-composed love poem to Lightner, which gets sidetracked into describing a sandwich.

Then, of course, there's Winnie Lightner, the supposed star of the film, who does some rather raw routines not related to the plot. She sings a long song in a hula outfit. (Hawaiian music is used as background music throughout the film to fairly good effect, another carryover from THE BARKER.) The song is about a girl whose smile says "Take a look at this," with Lightner (filmed from the navel up) raising her grass skirt at this repeated line. In another scene she impersonates a high diver and so as not to reveal her (supposedly) feminine voice, she talks in deaf-and-dumb hand signals. These are performed very fast, but one can catch a glimpse of not only "the finger" but the classic symbol of the forefinger of one hand poked through the circled thumb and forefinger of the other. Another scene has her playing a geek in black-face, making amusing geek noises.

Kibbee, the third star player, is Colonel Gowdy, and though he has no vaudeville routines as the others do, the character is built up to give him the sort of scenes that he does best; drunk scenes, and a heart-to-heart with Lightner, who is like a daughter to him.

Then there's Vince Barnett (a journeyman doofus I always enjoy) in a small part as The Great Santini. Yup, The Great Santini. One has to ask, was Pat Conroy, the author of the novel on which the film of that name was based, thinking of this film when he used the name, or was that name used in various early films and/or plays as a generic character name. Finally, the film has a nice carnival atmosphere, crowds on the midway, etc. There's a great shot taken from the Ferris wheel as it swings down and reveals the actors on the side-show stage. Visually, there is no stinting.

This is one of those early-Thirties programmers where an anemic plot is used as a background for a few musical numbers, some comedy routines and anything else that comes to mind, all jammed into 65 minutes. In this case, the combination is very agreeable.

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