WriterJ. Keirn Brennan, Frank Fay Release dateNovember 21, 1929 (1929-11-21) CastFrank Fay (Master of Ceremonies), William Courtenay (The Minister - Guillotine Sequence), H.B. Warner (The Victim - Guillotine Sequence), Hobart Bosworth (Executioner - Guillotine Sequence), John Barrymore (Richard III in 'Henry VI Part III'), Mary Astor (Performer in 'The Pirate' Number) Similar moviesJohn Wick, Back to the Future, Salt, Lady and the Tramp, Independence Day, Knowing
The film was styled in the same format as the earlier Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film The Hollywood Revue of 1929. The high budget of the film meant that although it performed well at the box office, it did not return as much profit as The Hollywood Revue of 1929. 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.
The film features nearly all the stars then working under contract at Warner Bros. 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.
The Show of Shows features 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 performed in the style of barbed sarcasm. In an era of almost naive optimism, he stands out as a witty devil's advocate.
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 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"— Led by Monte Blue and Pasadena American Legion Fife and Drum Corps. A 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.
"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, Kalla 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" — Performed by Frank Fay. (Shot in black and white.)
"The Only Song I Know" — Performed by Nick Lucas. (Shot in black and white.)
"If I Could Learn to Love" — In a brief introductory sequence, missing from circulating prints, French lightweight boxer 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. Carpentier 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" — Featuring 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 M-G-M song "Your Mother and Mine" and a series of purposely lame and pointless practical jokes.
"If Your Best Friend Won't Tell You (Why Should I?)" — Sid Silvers back with Frank Fay 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 also appeared in the 1928 two-reeler Larry Ceballos' Roof Garden Revue. As an after piece, the dance appears to begin again but is halted by Louise Fazenda as the "Dancing Delegate" complaining about the costumes and demanding that Fay be brought on stage – which happens so rapidly that he appears without his pants.
"Your Love Is All I Crave" — A torch song of lost love sung by Frank Fay. Fay introduces the number with a topical 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 3)" — A Shakespeare extract introduced and recited by John Barrymore.
"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 soldiers. It is a parody of Chesterfield cigarette advertising. Much the same idea, parodying a cigarette advertising slogan, also appears in the opening seconds of Gold Diggers of Broadway (1929).
"Lady Luck" — The film's finale that is over a quarter of an hour. The original Technicolor version 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. Tap dancers (both white and black groups) dance 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".
"If Your Best Friend Won't Tell You" — Music by Joseph Burke, lyrics by Al Dubin
"Your Love Is All I Crave" — Music by Jimmy Johnson, lyrics by Perry Bradford and Al Dubin
"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
"Daisy Bell (Bicycle Built for Two)" -written by Harry Dacre
The Show of Shows still survives in a black-and-white 1958 print from an Associated Artists Productions. "Jack Buchanan with the Glee Quartet" is a single reel of a number that were shot but not included in the final cut, being later used for a standalone release as a b/w short.
Certain segments in color of the film have been recovered. As of July, 2017, these are as follows (in the order of their presentation in the film):
1. "Meet My Sister" - Sequence was shown publicly at the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival.
2. "Chinese Fantasy" - Entire sequence is present in commercially available copies of the film.
3. "Frank Fay With Sid Silvers" - An announcement was made in July, 2017 by the Vitaphone Project that portions of this sequence have been recovered, and preservation is ongoing.
4. "A Bicycle Built For Two" - An announcement was made in July, 2017 by the Vitaphone Project that portions of this sequence have also been recovered, and preservation is ongoing.
5. "If Your Best Friend Won't Tell You" - An announcement was made in July, 2017 by the Vitaphone Project that portions of this sequence have also been recovered, and preservation is ongoing.
6. "King Richard III" - At least one Technicolor specimen frame is known to exist. This sequence should not be confused with a color test John Barrymore made for RKO in 1933; that test involved a recitation from "Hamlet."
7. "Finale" - A six-minute segment of this sequence was shown publicly in Australia ca. 1978; this particular print is believed to have been destroyed in the late 1980s. At least one Technicolor specimen frame from this sequence is known to exist.
8. "Curtain of Stars" - A four-second segment of this sequence was restored by the George Eastman House.
The Library of Congress maintains a copy (since the 1970s) of the black/white version.