Back in the VHS era, Paramount’s editions of Wings and other silent films were very nice, but ultimately less impressive than MGM/UA’s editions of silent classics. Titles like King Vidor’s comic homage to Hollywood, Show People, used Oscar-winner Kevin Brownlow’s restoration and newly recorded orchestra scores.
That was then. Warner Bros. owns the MGM library now, and Warner Archive’s manufactured-on-demand curiosity shop just issued Show People in an unrestored, no-frills DVD. While the old VHS was sourced from a better, slightly longer source print, the DVD is sourced from WB’s print and has the original 1928 music and effects track. The image is rough in spots, and the soundtrack is a mixed blessing; while most of the contemporary music is appropriate, there’s an original love theme, “Crossroads,” that is excruciating.
Even in this hand-me-down version, though, Show People is a delight. It’s a light satire of the movie business starring Marion Davies as Peggy Pepper, a Georgia hick who tries to make it in Hollywood. Davies, who knew a thing or two about celebrity and what it can do to you, knows just how far to go in spoofing famestruck Peggy without making her too absurd or unsympathetic.
The film is full of sly jokes and through-the-looking-glass moments: When Peggy meets Charlie Chaplin out of his Tramp costume, she’s perturbed by the little fellow’s interest; when Davies as Peggy is presented with Davies as Davies, she’s amusingly unimpressed. If Sunset Boulevard is the most convincing poison-pen letter Hollywood ever sent to itself, Show People is the most sincere self-addressed Valentine.