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Hollywood Films

The Show of Shows (1929)

At some point in 1928 or 1929, Carpentier spent a month at the lavish Long Island estate of Arthur Loew, then vice-president of MGM, whom he had met in Paris.  There he rubbed elbows with some of the Hollywood royalty of the era such as Douglas Fairbanks and his wife Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and his wife Joan Crawford.[1] These powerful contacts led to Carpentier’s relocating temporarily to Hollywood to appear in the film The Show of Shows (1929), a collection of variety acts—musical numbers, comedy routines, skits-- directed by John G. Adolfi (who had already directed Carpentier in The Wonder Man) and produced by Jack Warner.  During the filming period, Carpentier was Warner’s house guest and met even more famous and influential “movie people.”

The Show of Shows was Carpentier’s first “talkie” and also the first and only time he performed on film the same sort of routine he had done, and would continue to do, in his music-hall act: a little singing, a little dancing, a bit of patter, a bit of exercise to show off his physique.  Typically self-deprecating, especially with respect to his movie career, Carpentier describes The Show of Shows and his participation in it as follows:

It was a kind of grand revue in glorious Technicolor, a technique which was just coming in at the time to consolidate the victorious advance of the “Talkies.”  And in this film of course there was a good deal of dialogue and singing, though I didn’t take much part in either.  I had a few lines to say and two or three songs to sing, but my chief job was to prance around and show off my anatomy. […] The job lasted for about twelve days and I did fairly well it appeared, but I wasn’t very happy about it. (Carpentier by himself, 188)

Carpentier appears in two production numbers in the film: one begins with him, as a sort of gym teacher or personal trainer, exercising, which eventually leads into an elaborate production number worthy of Busby Berkeley, complete with scores of dancing girls and an outlandishly fanciful set design; the other is somewhat less outrageous, consisting of him singing a song that is essentially about his being French and a boxer.  With a replica of the Eiffel Tower behind him, Carpentier sings “If I Could Learn to Love As Well As I Fight,” while a “Yankee” girl and a French girl compete for his attention.  At the end of this sequence, Carpentier performs a sort of strip-tease (“Undressing for Excess”), taking off his top hat, tails, and spats and ending up in a tank top, boxing trunks and a sash-type belt, a clear visual evocation of both his ring persona and his earlier film performance in The Wonder Man.  The second half of the number is essentially a calisthenics sequence, with a line of high-kicking chorus girls surrounding the exercising Carpentier as the Marseillaise plays in the background.  

Carpentier’s persona in The Show of Shows is thus completely self-referential; American audiences knew him as a boxer and a suave French dandy, so he appears, logically enough, as a boxer and as a suave French dandy.  His abilities to perform as a singer or dancer are beside the point; he is appearing as Georges Carpentier.  Audiences were clearly expected to enjoy the novelty of watching Carpentier the celebrity on screen, regardless of the quality of his performance.

Naughty but Nice (1930)

Carpentier also appeared in Naughty but Nice, another Warner production filmed in 1929 and released on January 30, 1930 (there is little information is available about this film and Carpentier he makes no mention of in either of his autobiographies). Carpentier may well have been the star of the film; one source lists the title as “Georges Carpentier in Naughty but Nice.”

Hold Everything (1930)

Jack Warner himself invited Carpentier to star in Hold Everything (dir. Roy Del Ruth), the film version of a successful Broadway musical comedy of the same title. According to Carpentier, Warner suggested that this would be his opportunity to “go in for film work seriously.”  Carpentier, fully aware of his limitations as an actor, was skeptical:

I hesitated.  I felt a little lost in flamboyant Hollywood amongst all the famous stars.  But much more important than that: I have always had a horror of not doing things really well, and I certainly didn’t think a great deal of my abilities as a film star.  But Jack Warner pressed me, saying that my début in Show of Shows had been quite satisfactory and there was no reason why I shouldn’t do just as well this time.  In the end I accepted his offer. (Carpentier by himself, 189)

In the film, a very early Technicolor production, Carpentier plays, predictably, a champion boxer. Georges La Verne is in love with his childhood sweetheart, Sue Burke, played by Sally O’Neill (who had also starred in The Show of Shows).  Unfortunately for La Verne, another young woman is in love with him.  Most of the action takes place in La Verne’s training camp and, predictably, the story culminates in the heavyweight championship fight for which La Verne has been in training.  The fight is (of course) hard fought, La Verne nonetheless triumphs (of course) by a magnificent KO and walks away (of course) with both the title and the woman he loves.[2] In this, his last American film, Carpentier was once again more or less playing himself on screen, using the role to display both the athleticism that he was no longer being paid to put to use in the ring and the singing and dancing skills he had acquired on the music-hall stage since his retirement from boxing.

Of note is the fact that there is a sub-plot concerning a proposed fixed fight, which La Verne’s manager refuses.[3]  In light of Carpentier’s rather spectacular downfall due to a fixed fight seven years earlier, this particular plot point is rather ironic.  One can reasonably assume, however, that among American film-goers, only the die-hard fight fans would have known about and remembered the Carpentier-Siki debacle.

Hold Everything was Carpentier’s last appearance in an American film.

 


[1] See Carpentier by himself, 187. Return to text

[2] Haÿ, 185-186. Return to text

[3] Haÿ, 186. Return to text