The Show of Shows
|The Show of Shows (1929)|
Sheet Music for the film.
|Directed by||John G. Adolfi|
|Produced by||Darryl F. Zanuck|
|Written by||J. Keirn Brennan
|Starring||Frank Fay (emcee)
Noah Beery, Sr.
Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
|Music by||Edward Ward|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Release date(s)||November 21, 1929|
|Running time||128 min (107 minutes in Technicolor)|
The Show of Shows (1929) is a lavish all talking Vitaphone musical revue film that cost $850,000 to make. The Show of Shows was Warner Bros.' fifth color movie; the first four were The Desert Song (1929), On with the Show (1929), Gold Diggers of Broadway (1929) and Paris (1929). This movie featured most of the contemporary Warner Bros. film stars.
The movie was styled in the same format as the earlier MGM film The Hollywood Revue of 1929. The Show of Shows was photographed almost entirely in Technicolor; the cost of the film meant that although it performed well at the box office, it did not return as much profit as the MGM film. The Show of Shows was originally meant to be and advertised as being an all-color talking movie; however, twenty-one minutes was in black and white—17 minutes of the first part and the first four minutes of part two.
Seen today in incomplete black-and-white duplicate prints, it remains of historical interest, showing the talent working at Warner Bros. in the early talkie period. The film features all the stars then working at Warner Bros. except for Dorothy Mackaill and Al Jolson. Virtually all the performers shown would vanish from the studio by 1931, after tastes had shifted owing to the effects of the Great Depression, which began to be felt late in 1930.
At that time, the sophisticated and musical talent that had characterized the 1920s was replaced by a new set of stars more in tune with the common man and with more sober times, headed by the likes of Warren William, Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Glenda Farrell, William Powell, Kay Francis, Lee Tracy, Joan Blondell, Dick Powell, Clark Gable, and James Cagney. In 1929, however, these were as yet unknown names in the movie world, with the exception of Powell, who was a well-known villain in Paramount silents. In The Show of Shows we see many of the performers who were popular in silent movies mixed in with hand-picked stage stars and novelty acts.
The emcee of the film was Frank Fay, who had an unusual style of barbed sarcasm. In an era of almost naive optimism, he stands out as a witty devil's advocate. Fay's unique style appears to have been often misunderstood by reviewers and audiences and interpreted as bad technique, but Fay is clearly sending up the film, albeit slyly. He uses this technique to good effect in introducing each act and has a running joke about doing his own song, which he eventually performs near the end of the film.
What follows here is a detailed description of the existing prints. Most of the scenes were originally in color, but only black-and-white television prints survive, except for the Chinese Fantasy scene and the Meet My Sister scene. The Meet My Sister scene is available only in black and white on most prints, as the color print is held privately.
- Prologue—In a scene set in the French Revolution, Hobart Bosworth as an executioner and H.B. Warner as an aristocrat who is executed on a guillotine. This strange and morbid opening serves to show that traditional stage shows are finished. Up until 1929, most big cities had added stage acts before silent movies. These were costly, and sound films would make them mostly obsolete. As the aristocrat tries to speak, he is interrupted by the executioner, who rants that they have heard his remarks too often and it is time for him to be gone. After the blade falls, the executioner joyously shouts: "Prologue is Dead! On with the Show of Shows!"
- Military March—lead by Monte Blue and Pasadena American Legion Fife and Drum Corps. A very static pageant set entirely on a huge set of steps with the cadets changing formation to provide a series of color effects in a manner that would be popularized much later by Busby Berkeley.
- What's Become of the Floradora Boys?—Myrna Loy, Marian Nixon, Ben Turpin, Lupino Lane, and many others in a partial parody of the now largely forgotten 'Florodora' Edwardian stage show. This was the first of its kind, a lavish show featuring girls in a chorus, and it would attract a generation of male admirers before passing into history. Thus, the production was still a living memory among many in 1929, prompting this gentle parody.
- Motion Picture Pirates—featuring Ted Lewis with a fantasy number set of a pirate ship headed by cut-throat Noah Beery and Tully Marshall with Wheeler Oakman, Kala Pasha, and other well-known movie villains of the era. A group of beautiful girls are captured and saved from an awful fate (almost) by light comedian Johnny Arthur sending up Douglas Fairbanks. The pirates literally blow him overboard. Finally, the day is saved by Ted Lewis, a well-known bandleader at that time who had recently appeared in his own starring vehicle for Warner Bros., Is Everybody Happy? (1929), a film now deemed lost. His trademark was a battered top hat, and his signature tune was "Me and My Shadow".
- Dear Little Pup—sung by Frank Fay.
- The Only Song I Know—Nick Lucas
- Ping Pongo—sung by Winnie Lightner
- If I Could Learn to Love—In a brief introductory sequence, missing from circulating prints, Georges Carpentier is introduced by Frank Fay, who provokes Carpentier into lightly tapping him with his formidable hands, to which Fay comically overreacts and then beats a hasty retreat. Georges Carpentier was a French lightweight boxer who was briefly adopted as a star in the Maurice Chevalier mold. He sings here against an Eiffel Tower backdrop accompanied by Patsy Ruth Miller and Alice White and later a singing and dancing chorus of girls. Ultimately, all of them remove their street clothes to reveal athletic togs underneath, and a precision dance routine follows with the participants positioned on an upright series of geometric struts.
- Recitations—Beatrice Lillie, Louise Fazenda, Lloyd Hamilton, and Frank Fay. A series of stark poetic recitations that are first performed by each performer whole and then line by line, until when mixed up they form a bizarre and suggestive product. The sequence also includes a parody of the MGM song "Your Mother and Mine" and a series of purposely lame and pointless practical jokes.
- Meet My Sister—Introduced by a deliberately nervous Richard Barthelmess followed by 'Hollywood' sisters, including Dolores Costello and Helene Costello, singing "My Sister", along with Loretta Young and Sally Blane, Sally O'Neil and Molly O'Day, Alice Day and Marceline Day, Marion Byron and Harriette Lake (later better known as Ann Sothern), Viola Dana and Shirley Mason, Lola Vendrell and Armida Vendrell, and Alberta Vaughn and Adamae Vaughn. All of the pairs were sisters in real life except for Marion Byron and Harriette Lake, who were not related. The song is partly compromised by having each set of 'twins' representing a different country against a backdrop serving to illustrate each in a display of international stereotypes (this number exists in color in a faded private print, which has the start and end partly removed).
- Intermission—Ten Minutes—Title Card (missing from some prints)
- Singin' in the Bathtub—Winnie Lightner and a bunch of male chorines amusingly send up Singin' in the Rain against a huge bathroom set, concluding with Lightner and ex-wrestler Bull Montana singing a parody of the MGM song "You Were Meant for Me" from the 1929 film The Broadway Melody.
- Irene Bordoni singing "Just an Hour of Love".
- Chinese Fantasy—Introduced, via sharp barks, by canine performer Rin Tin Tin, with Nick Lucas singing "Li-Po-Li" and Myrna Loy dancing. This lavish production number is a good illustration of the film as a whole and still entertains today. It survives in Technicolor.
- Frank Fay with Sid Silvers—Amusing skit with Sid Silvers stepping in as an annoying spectator who is auditioning for a solo spot by showing Frank Fay his own imitation of Al Jolson singing "Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody". Jolson, although a Warner Bros. top star, does not appear.
- A Bicycle Built for Two—Another music hall pastiche featuring Chester Conklin, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Chester Morris, Gertrude Olmstead, Sally Eilers and others singing the 1890s standard "Daisy Bell" against a deliberately unreal revolving backdrop.
- If Your Best Friend Won't Tell You (Why Should I?)—Sid Silvers back with Frank Fay wickedly singing about the horrors of halitosis.
- Larry Ceballos' Black and White Girls—Introduced by Sid Silvers and danced by chorus girls dressed up in black and white dresses. One half of the girls wear outfits with black fronts and white backs (with corresponding wigs) while the others wear outfits exactly the reverse. As the girls turn about in formation, the lines of dancers switch from white to black or form geometric patterns. Music instrumental Jumping Jack. A reworking of an almost identical dance routine set to "The Doll Dance", which appeared in the 1928 Technicolor two-reeler "Larry Ceballos' Roof Garden Revue".
As an afterpiece, the dance appears to begin again but is halted by Louise Fazenda as the "Dancing Delegate" complaining about the costumes ("These skirts are TOO SHORT!") and demanding that Fay be brought on stage—which happens so rapidly that he appears without his pants.
- Your Love Is All I Crave—An emotional and surprisingly moving torch song of lost love sung by Frank Fay. Fay introduces the number with a topical and (for 1929) surprisingly sharp series of jokes: He describes being in a play where the entire cast entered dressed in rags ("It was a futuristic piece"). He also tweaks his own image: "The leading lady called to me: "My Stalwart Youth" ... (I was heavily made up)...."
- King Richard III (in excerpt from Henry VI (Part III))—Introduced and recited by John Barrymore. This Shakespeare extract was thought to add a bit of class at the time. Deliberately picked as a particularly grim sequence, the delivery and meaning could easily be accepted by any contemporary audience.
- Mexican Moonshine —Comedy sketch with Monte Blue as a condemned man and Frank Fay as his executioner accompanied by Lloyd Hamilton, Albert Gran, and others as rather effeminate soldiers. ("Oh, Penelope!" calls Fay, and Lloyd Hamilton walks over swaying his hips.) It is a parody of 'Chesterfield' Tobacco advertising. Much the same idea, parodying a cigarette advertising slogan, also appears in the opening seconds of Gold Diggers of Broadway (1929).
- Lady Luck Finale—A genuinely spectacular finale lasting over a quarter of an hour. (Originally filmed in two-strip Technicolor, it now exists only in black and white. The following description is of the ORIGINAL version.) It starts with Alexander Gray singing a full-blooded version of the song "Lady Luck" inside an enormous ballroom set with huge windows revealing a midnight green sky. The set is backed by stairs, in varied warm colors, down which a procession of novelty acts and pastel-colored dancers with pink and green costumes flood the stage, each with a different number to perform against a fast moving musical backing. The red-lined ceiling reveals chandeliers to which girls have been fixed, all in the name of spectacle. Tap dancers (both white and black groups) dance themselves into a frenzy on a highly polished wooden floor. This all ends as Betty Compson walks down the full length of the stage in procession to meet Alexander Gray, and with the whole cast assembled, hundreds of colored streamers drop from the roof as "Lady Luck" reaches a finale.
- Curtain of Stars —With the cast appearing with their heads poked through holes in canvas singing "Lady Luck", especially John Barrymore making facial gestures while he pretends to be singing along with the others.
Film preservation 
This movie still survives in a black-and-white 1950s television copy. Color sequences only survive in black and white except the "Chinese Fantasy" sequence introduced by Rin Tin Tin and starring Myrna Loy and Nick Lucas.
- "You Were Meant For Me" Music by Nacio Herb Brown, Lyrics by Arthur Freed—Sung by Bull Montana and Winnie Lightner
- "Singin' in the Bathtub" Music by Michael Cleary, Lyrics by Herb Magidson and Ned Washington—Sung by Winnie Lightner with a chorus of men dressed as women wearing comic bathing suits, who in turn are joined by fat, cigar-smoking men reclining in glass bathtubs.
- "Lady Luck"—Music and Lyrics by Ray Perkins, Sung by Nick Lucas, Alexander Gray and Ted Lewis
- "Pirate Band"—Music by M.K. Jerome, Lyrics by J. Keirn Brennan
- "If I Could Learn to Love"—Music by M.K. Jerome, Lyrics by Herman Ruby—Sung by Georges Carpentier
- "Ping Pongo"—Music by Joseph Burke, Lyrics by Al Dubin, Sung by Winnie Lightner
- "The Only Song I Know"—Music by Ray Perkins, Lyrics by J. Keirn Brennan
- "My Sister", Music by Ray Perkins, Lyrics by J. Keirn Brennan
- "Your Mother and Mine", Music by Gus Edwards, Lyrics by Joe Goodwin
- "Just an Hour of Love", Music by Edward Ward, Lyrics by Alfred Bryan
- "Li-Po-Li", Music by Edward Ward, Lyrics by Alfred Bryan, Sung by Mr Nick Lucas
- "Rock-A-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody", Music by Jean Schwartz, Lyrics by Sam Lewis and Joe Young
- "If Your Best Friend Won't Tell You", Music by Joseph Burke, Lyrics by Al Dubin, Sung by Frank Fay
- "Your Love Is All I Crave", Music by Jimmy Johnson, Lyrics by Perry Bradford and Al Dubin, Sung by Frank Fay
- "What's Become of the Floradora Boys?", Music and Lyrics by Ray Perkins
- "Dear Little Pup", Music by Ray Perkins, Lyrics by J. Keirn Brennan, Sung by Frank Fay
Credited cast 
- Harry Akst—On-Screen Pianist
- Armida Vendrell—'Meet My Sister' and 'Lady Luck' Finale
- Johnny Arthur—'Motion Picture Pirates'
- Mary Astor—'Motion Picture Pirates'
- John Barrymore—'Henry VI Part III'
- Richard Barthelmess—Introduces 'Meet My Sister'
- Noah Beery—The 'Motion Picture Pirates' and 'Mexican Moonshine' sketches
- Sally Blane—'Meet My Sister' number
- Monte Blue—Condemned man in 'Mexican Moonshine' sketch
- Irène Bordoni—singing 'One Hour of Love'
- Hobart Bosworth—Prologue (executioner)
- Jack Buchanan—Himself (Not in American Release Prints)
- Marion Byron—'Meet My Sister' number
- Georges Carpentier—'If I Could Learn To Love' Number
- Chester Conklin—'Bicycle Built for Two' number
- Heinie Conklin—Himself
- Dolores Costello—'Meet My Sister' number
- Helene Costello—'Meet My Sister' number
- William Courtenay—'Bicycle Built for Two' Sequence
- Viola Dana—'Motion Picture Pirates' and 'Meet My Sister number
- Alice Day—'What's Become of the Florodora Boys' and 'Meet My Sister numbers
- Marceline Day—'Meet My Sister number
- Douglas Fairbanks Jr.—'Bicycle Built for Two' number
- Frank Fay—Master of Ceremonies
- Louise Fazenda—'Recitations' sketch
- Lloyd Hamilton—'Florodora', 'Recitations' and 'Mexican Moonshine' sketch
- Lupino Lane—'What's Become of the Florodora Boys' number
- Lila Lee—'What's Become of the Florodora Boys' number
- Ted Lewis—Himself (as Ted Lewis & His Orchestra)
- Winnie Lightner—'Pingo Pongo' and 'Singin' in the Bathtub' numbers
- Beatrice Lillie—'Recitations' sketch
- Lola—'Lady Luck' Finale
- Myrna Loy—'Florodora Boys', 'Believe Me' and 'Chinese Fantasy' numbers
- Nick Lucas—'Lady Luck' solo, 'The Only Song I Know' and 'Chinese Fantasy numbers
- Tully Marshall—'Motion Picture Pirates' and 'Mexican Moonshine' sequences
- Shirley Mason—'Meet My Sister' number
- Patsy Ruth Miller—'What's Become of the Florodora Boys' and 'If I Could Learn to Love' numbers
- Bull Montana—'Singin' in the Bathtub' number
- Lee Moran—'Singin' in the Bathtub' sequence
- Chester Morris—'$20 Bet' sketch and 'Bicycle Built for Two' number
- Jack Mulhall—'$20 Bet' Sketch
- Marian Nixon—'What's Become of the Florodora Boys' number
- Molly O'Day—'Meet My Sister'
- Sally O'Neil—'What's Become of the Florodora Boys' and 'Meet My Sister numbers
- Kalla Pasha—'Motion Picture Pirates'
- Anders Randolf—'Motion Picture Pirates'
- Rin Tin Tin—Himself, introducing "An Oriental Fantasy"
- Sojin—'$20 Bet' Sketch
- Ann Sothern—'Meet My Sister' and 'Bicycle Built for Two' numbers—Unverified (as Harriet Byron)
- Ben Turpin—'What's Become of the Florodora Boys' number
- Ada Mae Vaughn—'Meet My Sister'
- Alberta Vaughn—'Meet My Sister'
- Edward Ward—(as Eddie Ward)
- H.B. Warner—Aristocrat in Prologue
- Alice White—'If I Could Learn to Love'
- Lois Wilson—'Bicycle Built for Two' number
- Grant Withers—'Believe Me'(cut) and 'Bicycle Built for Two' number
- Loretta Young—'Meet My Sister' number
- William Bakewell—'Bicycle Built for Two' number
- Ethlyne Clair—'Motion Picture Pirates' number
- Betty Compson—'Lady Luck' Finale, as Lady Luck (herself)
- Albert Gran—'Singin' in the Bathtub' sequence
- Alexander Gray—Vocalist, 'Lady Luck' Finale
- Jacqueline Logan—'Motion Picture Pirates' sequence
- Marcelle—'Lady Luck' Finale
- Edna Murphy—'Motion Picture Pirates' sequence
- Carmel Myers—'Motion Picture Pirates' sequence
- Gertrude Olmstead—'Motion Picture Pirates' sequence
- Sid Silvers—Al Jolson imitation, introduces 'Black and White Girls' number
- Bert Roach—'What's Become of the Floradora Boys?' sequence
Uncredited Cast 
- Anthony Bushell
- Michael Cleary
- Ruth Clifford
- William Collier Jr.
- Jack Curtis
- Sally Eilers (as herself )
- Pauline Garon
- Julanne Johnston
- Frances Lee
- Otto Matieson
- Philo McCullough
- Wheeler Oakman
- E.J. Ratcliffe
- Reginald Sharland
- Dave Silverman
- Louis Silvers
- Norman Spencer
- Lester Stevens
- Ted Williams