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The Showdown (1928)

A group of Westerners seek oil in Latin America, fighting over their claims and the local prostitute. When glamorous Sibyl appears, "Lucky" Cardan warns her that no woman can stay "decent" in "this country." Sibyl vows to prove him wrong.

Writers:

Houston Branch (play), Ethel Doherty (adaptation) | 4 more credits »
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Cast

Cast overview:
George Bancroft ... Cardan
Evelyn Brent ... Sibyl Shelton
Neil Hamilton ... Wilson Shelton
Fred Kohler ... Winter
Helen Lynch ... Goldie
Arnold Kent ... Hugh Pickerell
Leslie Fenton ... Kilgore Shelton
George Kuwa George Kuwa ... Willie
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Storyline

A group of Westerners seek oil in Latin America, fighting over their claims and the local prostitute. When glamorous Sibyl appears, "Lucky" Cardan warns her that no woman can stay "decent" in "this country." Sibyl vows to prove him wrong.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

mexico | based on play | See All (2) »

Taglines:

Four white men and one white woman caught in the spell of tropical passions! (Print ad- Milwaukee Sentinel, ((Milwaukee, Wisc.)) 13 May 1928)

Genres:

Drama

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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

25 February 1928 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Cartas na Mesa See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Paramount Pictures See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Sound Mix:

Silent

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Trivia

This film was preserved in 2006 by the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. See more »

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User Reviews

 
Oil madness
9 June 2012 | by claudecatSee all my reviews

"The Showdown" is a follow-up to Josef Von Sternberg's "Underworld," reuniting some of the same cast. George Bancroft plays "Lucky" Cardan, a tough-as-nails oilman who has a history of finding wells and losing them to the scheming reps of bigger companies, such as "Winter" (Fred Kohler). Evelyn Brent plays the "good" woman who disturbs Cardan's isolated world. The setting is rather unusual for a silent film: a Latin American jungle ("The Showdown" came out some months before Tod Browning's "West of Zanzibar").

I was a little worried that the movie would dwell boringly on the technicalities of oil fields, but the real story turned out to be about the rivalries of the Western men who work the wells. In some ways, the industry doesn't seem to have changed much: the locals are still stuck serving the richer outsiders, and the specter of Big Oil hovers in the background.

What really has changed is the movies' view of women in society. The male characters fight over the local prostitute, Goldie (charmingly played by Helen Lynch), but no one considers her worthy of respect. When a new oil-seeker appears, bringing along his high-class wife, Sibyl (intense and beautiful Evelyn Brent), the men are both shocked into behaving with more decorum, and desperate to bring her down. Cardan declares that there's no way she can remain "decent" in "this country." (I was unclear on exactly where the story takes place, but a contemporary reviewer put it in Mexico, which makes this declaration all the more ignorant.) Insulted, Sibyl insists on remaining in the isolated encampment to stand by her husband (played by Neil Hamilton, later Commissioner Gordon on "Batman").

Evelyn Brent plays a very different character than her "Feathers" gun moll in "Underworld." Sibyl is a very correct woman, who dresses for dinner even in the jungle (much to the scorn of the New York Times in 1928). Oddly, the movie argues that this level of formality is a sign of civilization: when Sibyl stops setting her hair, or dressing for dinner, Carden warns, that will show that her purity is beginning to degrade. Who knew a curling iron was the only thing standing between a woman and the total loss of her character!

The moviemaker seems totally unaware that what really threatens Sibyl is not the country.

It was somewhat encouraging to read a contemporary review of the film, available on the NY Times website, which found the story ridiculous. Let's hope most real women of the 1920's didn't have to face this kind of attitude. Yet, despite the disturbing gender politics, and the mildly racist portrayal of a Chinese character (George Kuwa), modern fans of silent dramas will find a lot to like in "The Showdown." The acting is believable, the different faces are fascinating, and the world the movie creates is compelling. The camera-work and lighting are beautiful, and the outdoor setting well-shot--the scenes don't look trapped in a studio.

The costumes do much to enhance the characters. If you've ever fantasized about dressing in 1920's splendor every day, Evelyn Brent's outfits will cure you of it. Each of the oilmen is casual in a different way--with the exception of the English rep for Royal Oil, who wears comically inappropriate, beautifully tailored suits.

I wouldn't be surprised to find that this film (or Houston Branch's play, "Wildcat," upon which it was based) helped inspire both "West of Zanzibar" and "The Night of the Iguana;" though the idea of Westerners struggling in the jungle certainly came before the movies.


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