For Reel

Side Show (1931)
March 18, 2012, 9:06 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Roy Del Ruth

With the arrival of sound, a new genre of film could flourish: the musical. The market had become so saturated with them in the early thirties, however, that it wasn’t long before the audiences needed a break. Winnie Lightner, whose temporary fame came as a result of her role in Gold Diggers of Broadway in 1929, was a casualty of the growing apathy towards the musical – several of her pictures had their songs removed, and Warner Brothers eventually transitioned her to non-singing parts without much success. Side Show, made during this awkward phase (affording her only one song-and-dance number), is a decent showcase for Lightner’s unique on-screen persona, however its jokes too often fall flat. Guy Kibbee plays the alcoholic owner of a traveling circus whose daughter, Lightner, fills in for the disgruntled acts once they quit. Things become complicated when her boyfriend, a barker played by Donald Cook, falls for her visiting younger sister. While the love-triangle is mishandled and the potentially biting confrontations disappoint, the picture does, with a fair amount of understatement, point to the anxieties of being an older sibling. The sister, played by the luminous ingenue Evalyn Knapp, is prettier than she and fends off attention regularly, whereas Lightner finds herself mocked when she must pose as the world’s most beautiful living painting.

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