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Film / Show People

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Dramatic mood: Joy.

Show People is a 1928 silent film directed by King Vidor.

The film is a lighthearted comic satire of Hollywood movie making at the end of the silent film era. Marion Davies stars as Peggy Pepper, a wide-eyed innocent Georgia hillbilly who comes to Hollywood to make it big as a dramatic actress. Instead, by chance, she winds up starring in slapstick comedies. She falls in love with her co-star Billy Boone, played by William Haines, but when she gets her big break and makes the transition to drama, their romance is threatened.

When analysts of Citizen Kane talk about how the real Marion Davies was actually a gifted comic actress, this is the film they're most likely to mention.

This film provides examples of:

  • Acquired Situational Narcissism: Peggy, after she switches from comedy to dramatic roles. She gets better by the end.
  • Bad "Bad Acting": Peggy's presentation of the dramatic moods when auditioning for an acting job.
  • The Cameo: Filled with celebrity cameos from stars of the day, from the minor to the huge. A complete listing: Renee Adoree, George K. Arthur, Charlie Chaplin (sans makeup and so unrecognizable), Lew Cody, Karl Dane, Marion Davies (see Celebrity Paradox below), Douglas Fairbanks, John Gilbert (twice), Elinor Glyn, William S. Hart, Leatrice Joy, Rod La Rocque, Robert Z. Leonard, Mae Murray, Louella Parsons, Aileen Pringle, Dorothy Sebastian, Norma Tallmadge, Estelle Taylor, King Vidor, and Claire Windsor.
  • Captain Obvious: Peggy rides down Hollywood Boulevard and sees business after business with "Hollywood" in the name and concludes that "This must be Hollywood."
  • Celebrity Paradox: Marion Davies, in addition to starring as Peggy, makes a cameo appearance as Marion Davies. Peggy is unimpressed.
  • Comedy Ghetto: In-Universe, Peggy thinks comedy should be in a ghetto. She thinks True Art Is Angsty.
  • Creator Cameo: Director King Vidor appears in the last scene as himself.
  • Enforced Method Acting: In-universe. Assistants slice onions for Peggy when she can't cry on command.
  • High-Class Glass: Andre, the unbearably pretentious fake, can be seen wearing a monocle as he arrives to take Peggy out to a party.
  • Hollywood California: Among other things this film is a remarkable portrait of Hollywood filmmaking in the late silent era.
  • Mythology Gag: In the last scene, Billy has finally made the jump to drama and is appearing in a World War I movie where he's in love with a peasant girl played by Peggy. King Vidor, of course, was director of the massive 1925 hit The Big Parade in which an American GI falls in love with a French peasant girl.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Peggy Pepper is a blend of silent film stars Gloria Swanson and Mae Murray. Her weird lip pucker is an imitation of Murray. Gloria Swanson, like Peggy, got her start in slapstick (Mack Sennett's Keystone Studio) before transitioning to grand costume dramas. Both Murray and Swanson married European noblemen; Murray's husband passed himself off as a prince just as "Count" Andre does in the film. Andre's appearance and mannerisms are an obvious parody of silent film heartthrob John Gilbert; this did not stop Gilbert from making two cameos in the movie.
  • Old Shame: In-universe example; after Peggy makes the move to dramatic roles she is embarrassed about her early career in slapstick comedy.
  • Onion Tears: When Peggy can't cry on command, assistants slice onions for her.
  • Pie in the Face: Peggy's initiation in slapstick is when she's sent into a film not knowing what to expect, only for the scene in question to be a pie fight.
  • Self-Deprecation: The brief clip of Bardelys the Magnficent is followed up by Billy frowning and talking about how much it sucks. Bardelys was directed by King Vidor.
  • Show Within a Show: Multiple fictional Films Within A Film, as well as one real film, Bardelys the Magnificent, which Peggy and Billy see in a movie theater.
  • Slapstick: Billy and the rest of his troupe make these movies. Peggy is mortified when she becomes a slapstick star instead of a dramatic actress.
  • Stage Names: In-universe example. When Peggy Pepper becomes a dramatic actress she changes her name to Patricia Pepoire.
  • Tom Hanks Syndrome: In-Universe. Peggy goes through this, and it actually hurts her career, although she appears to have bounced back by the end. Billy apparently goes through this too at the end, when he's cast alongside Peggy in the WWI movie.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Peggy's father, Col. Marmaduke Pepper, is prominently featured in the beginning of the movie but disappears later, not even showing up for Peggy's wedding day.
  • You Just Ruined the Shot: A scene from what appears to be an unbearably hammy melodrama is ruined when Peggy, who is lost on her first day on the studio lot, wanders through the background.