Western Wednesdays: The Show Down (1921)

Orphan Betty Gray’s [Marcella Pershing] inheritance is taken by her greedy guardian Gunnison [Ed Burns], who increasingly profits off his ill-gotten gains. Gunnison hears that “Snapper” Walton [Art Acord], a man whom Betty fancies, aims to do away with him and confides in Betty that Walton is untrustworthy. Walton, on his way out of town, attempts to bid farewell to Betty, but she won’t have anything to do with him.

Months later, word is spread to Gunnison that “Snapper” is returning to prove to Betty that her father is no good and Gunnison rounds up some men to prohibit Walton’s arrival. As Walton nears the canyon, two of Gunnison’s men attempt to get the drop on him but fail when “Snapper” cuts them off at the pass and humiliates them.

Betty overhears a conversation between her father and a henchman and decides to go look for “Snapper.” While heading up the trail, Walton mistakenly sends a boulder hurtling down towards Betty, but saves her in the nick of time. Betty rides away but is promptly captured by her father and his cohorts.

Walton gives chase and gets the drop on Gunnison and his men at a nearby shack, forcing Gunnison to admit to his wrongdoing.

“The Show Down” was quite a fun two-reel western short, with speedy action and great location photography. The film, produced by Universal, is played mostly straight, however there are some interesting sight gags such as the sign for the Soft Shot Saloon (“Soft Drinks – Dern It”) as well as the deliciously evil lies delivered by Gunnison, which made me chuckle.

Most, if not all, of the acting is quite broad with the lead star Art Acord providing an especially over-the-top performance, however he seems to be genuinely enjoying himself, this is all the more evident during the sequence where he humiliates Gunnison’s men by forcing them to remove various articles of clothing before making them run for their lives. Acord has a decent on-screen presence but is not among the most handsome of screen cowboys. However, Acord manages quite nicely in fighting scenes, especially the brawl that ends the picture and looks tremendous riding the vast canyon on horseback.

Like many of the popular western stars of the time, Art Acord was a rodeo champion prior to becoming a movie star. Indeed, in 1912 as well as 1916, he won the steer wrestling competition at the Pendleton Round-Up. The most interesting of these wins was in 1916 where he defeated none other than Hoot Gibson. Acord quickly drew the attention of film producers and made his first movie in 1910. Unfortunately, most of Acord’s films are lost today, with The Show-Down serving as a rare, surviving example of his screen work.

Sadly, a heavy drinking problem as well as the advent of the sound screen killed Acord’s career and he was forced to find other means of work to support himself. He retired to Mexico where he became a miner, but he grew increasingly depressed and was horrifically burned in 1928 after an explosion at his home. On January 4, 1931, Art Acord committed suicide by cyanide poisoning, he had informed his doctor whom was treating him in the Mexican hospital, that he intentionally took the poison as he wanted to die. Art Acord was only 40 years old when he died.

“The Show Down” is recommended viewing, not only as a scarce, extant example of Art Acord’s work but as a sensational, action packed and lightly humorous western. The film can be found on YouTube, with a wonderful virtual theater organ score by my friend Ben Model.