The screenplay for The Show (1927) was written by frequent Tod Browning collaborator Waldemer Young (with uncredited help from Browning). It is (very loosely) based on Charles Tenney Jackson’s novel, “The Day of Souls.” Originally titled “Cock O’ the Walk,” The Show is one of the most bizarre productions to emerge from silent cinema, nearly on par with the director’s The Unknown from the same year.
John Gilbert plays Cock Robin, the ballyhoo man at the Palace of Illusions. A character with the name of an animal is a frequent Browning trademark, and Gilbert’s Robin is a proud Cock indeed, both the character and the actor. The Show amounted to punishment for star Gilbert, who had made what turned out to be a fatal error. When co-star and fiancee Greta Garbo failed to show up at their planned wedding, Gilbert was left humiliated at the altar, where studio boss Louis B. Mayer made a loud derogatory remark for all to hear. Gilbert responded by thrashing Mayer. Mayer swore revenge, vowing to destroy Gilbert’s career, regardless of cost (at the time Gilbert was the highest paid star in Hollywood). Mayer’s revenge began here and climaxed with the coming of sound, when he reportedly had the actor’s recorded dialogue manipulated to wreck Gilbert’s voice and career. Whether Mayer’s tinkering with Gilbert’s voice is legendary or not, Mayer did intentionally set out to give Gilbert increasingly unflattering roles, and the consequences were devastating for Gilbert. Having fallen so far, so fast, Gilbert took to excessive drink. He actually had a fine voice and starred in a few sound films, including Tod Browning’s Fast Workers (1933) and with Garbo in Queen Christina (1933) (she insisted on Gilbert, over Mayer’s strenuous objections). Gilbert died forgotten at 37 in 1936, and became the inspiration for the Norman Maine character in a Star is Born (1937). The Show was the first film after Gilbert’s aborted wedding incident, and instead of playing his usual role of swashbuckling matinee idol, Gilbert is cast as a cocky lecher.
Cock Robin is the barker for a Hungarian carnival, dazzling the ladies and bilking them of their hard earned silver. He ushers patrons in to the show with the help of “The Living Hand of Cleopatra,” a disembodied hand akin to Thing from “The Addams Family.” Among Cock’s unholy trio of mutilated-below-the-waist attractions is ‘Zela, the Half Lady.’ “Believe me boys, there are no cold feet here to bother you!” Zela is followed by ‘Arachnadia! The Human Spider!,’ a heavily mascaraed, disembodied head in a web (played Continue reading TOD BROWNING’S THE SHOW (1927)