The Show (1922)
Director: Larry Semon, Norman Taurog
Cast: Larry Semon, Oliver Hardy, Frank Alexander
Synopsis: A harried propman backstage at a theater must put up with malfunctioning wind machines, roosters that spit nitroglycerine, and a gang planning to rob the theater’s payroll.
It’s no surprise that Larry Semon, who was once as big a name as Chaplin and Keaton, is largely forgotten today. He pretty much reworked the same gags — over and over — with minor variations for much of his screen career without really bothering about any kind of plot or pathos. This one sees Semon playing a stage hand who has to put up with all kinds of stressful situations. There’s a family of low-lifes who sneak four of their number into the theatre where Semon works without paying. Having brought their own picnic — including a giant tub of jam — with them, they then proceed to accidentally drench the poor gent sitting in the seat directly below their box seats. An open barrel of lamp black sits between a wind machine and the stage so that when the machine is switched on the audience is covered in the stuff. Asked by the show’s leading lady to (Lucille Carlisle) hold her make-up while she goes on stage, Semon discovers it all tastes delicious and begins eating his way through it, pausing only to sneeze into the powder, covering the negro maid stood next to him and turning her face white. On and on it goes, making the first seventeen minutes seem much, much longer. A rooster pecks at some nitro-glycerine and then sets fire to Semon’s backside when it projectile vomits the stuff all over him. Meanwhile, a shifty Oliver Hardy steals the leading lady’s jewellery…
The Show is strictly second-rate up to this point, but then, after Hardy steals those jewels, something quite magical happens; The Show becomes a dazzling succession of breath-taking stunts performed with split-second timing as Semon’s single-handed pursuit of Hardy takes place around a speeding train. Again, it’s all been done before, but the movie comes alive when these stunts take centre stage, and if the entire movie had been staged with the same verve and timing we’d be hailing The Show as a classic. As it is, it’s a strictly mediocre movie with a terrific finale.
(Reviewed 30th November 2013)