Sandy Elliott is a shy nightclub pianist, pining for the resident singer June. After an altercation with a belligerent customer leads to Sandy knocking him flat (to his own astonishment most of all), the nightclub owner Joe has an idea. He tells wrestling enthusiast June that Sandy is secretly the masked fighter known as The Devil. She is thrilled to hear this, already having been holding a torch for the young palooka, but as the real Devil's antics in the ring get increasingly violent, it seems Sandy's newfound relationship might be on the rocks...
If you're looking for an enjoyable golden age picture, look no further than this. In only an hour, The Big Show-Off introduces its core cast, conceit, and obstacles, all with enough time to spare for a few musical numbers. Many derided these pictures as 'Poverty Row', but not only did they rarely look cheap (it's hard to when you're always working within your means), but these producers knew time management well. They could get across a lot in a short amount of time.
The plot is a simple one in the best way, rooted in mix-ups and false pretenses. It's amusing watching as poor Sandy gets roped into one misunderstanding to the next. With each successive lie, you think "Oh, he is so dead!".
Everything culminates in a great conclusion. My only concern was there was increasingly little time left for a denouement, especially regarding June. But even though it was very short, and Sandy's probably given himself the biggest criminal record this side of Michigan, it's a funny and sweet ending.
The dialogue in The Big Show-Off is frequently hilarious, with lines like
"How far do you think Romeo would have got with Juliet if he kept his kisser shut"
"But-but-but-but"..."Stop impersonating a motorboat."
And there are amusingly out of context (that includes for Sandy) lines like "Sandy, why didn't you tell me you were The Devil?", and "To think the only way I can impress a girl is to tell her that I'm the no-goodnik down there who's choking innocent Bulgars to death!"
The characters here are fun. Sandy is a likeable lead, even if he is too meek for his own good. June is a good love interest, and I liked that she actually knew what was going on with Sandy early on. She knows he's in love with her, and is simply waiting for him to make the move. Why she hangs out with Wally though is anyone's guess.
I liked the sense of community at the club, like how random sexy dancers know Sandy by name, and are always on friendly terms with him. He's never ignored or treated as a lowly peon. And Joe is legitimately a good boss despite his crusty and surly exterior. Another scene I enjoyed what when Sandy and June are performing a song and all the various musicians in the building decide to join in.
Wally meanwhile is a real asshole! An MC at the club, he's constantly trying to put the moves on June, and uses his position to try and keep 'undesirable' men away from her. He's swept aside once Sandy gets some points, but pops his head up every now and then with a snide remark, or to make trouble. There's a point in the climax where he really tries to mess things up, and some comeuppance woulda been nice, but oh well.
Beloved everyman Arthur Lake makes his way through The Big Show-Off smoking unlit cigarettes and nabbing girls way out of his league. All the best parts of the 1940s! Dale Evans is sweet and spunky, works out adorably, and pronounces Melbourne correctly! It's the little things that really count sometimes. The rest of the cast is enjoyable, from Lionel Stander's coarse but faithful boss, and Paul Hurst's artistically minded yet violent wrestler The Devil, as well as Marjorie Manners's spunky friend.
The Big Show-Off is a fun picture, and well worth watching on a rainy afternoon when all you need is a nice simple comedy to spend the time...