Thursday, October 27, 2016

FILMBAY 2000 Greatest Films of All-Time (1888-2014) by Year # 0080 - CURE FOR POKERITIS, A (Laurence Trimble, 1912, USA, 13m, BW)



CURE FOR POKERITIS, A 

(Laurence Trimble, 1912, USA, 13m, BW)



Introduction

A Cure for Pokeritis (1912)


Directed by     Laurence Trimble
Starring     John Bunny, Flora Finch

Production company
Vitagraph Company of America
Distributed by     General Film Company
Release dates February 23, 1912
Running time 13 minutes
Country     United States
Language Silent film
English intertitles


A Cure for Pokeritis is a 1912 short silent film starring John Bunny and Flora Finch. After Bunny's death, a re-release was announced with the alternative title A Sure Cure for Pokeritis. This domestic comedy depicts a woman who stops her husband's gambling habit by having her cousin stage a fake police raid on the weekly poker game. It was one of many similar shorts produced by Vitagraph Studios, whose popularity made Bunny and Finch early film stars. Although its style of humor is dated, it has been recognized as a historically important representative of its period and genre.

Story

Upon returning home from an evening spent losing at poker, George Brown swears off gambling forever. However, his friend Bigelow convinces him to secretly continue attending the weekly poker game and to tell his wife Mary that he has been admitted to the Sons of the Morning, a fraternal lodge, to explain his absences. When George talks in his sleep, she becomes suspicious and has her cousin Freddie Dewdrop follow him, allowing her to learn the truth. Together with the wives of the other poker players, she enacts a plan to end the gambling. Freddie and the members of his Bible study group dress up as police officers and raid the game. The gamblers' wives then arrive, and the police leave the men to be scolded, purportedly in place of being arrested. As the film ends, the Browns reconcile.





Review

A Cure for Pokeritis is a Vitagraph short starring the now forgotten John Bunny (1863-1915) and his frequent female costar Flora Finch (1867-1940). It was released in February of 1912. To put that in historical context this was two months before the maiden voyage and sinking of the Titanic. This one-reeler is about a wife who discovers that her husband has not given up his weekly poker night out as he has promised and so she takes matters into her own hands. After suspecting her husband of lying she calls up her male cousin and he follows the husband on his next night out (he’s supposed to have joined some civic minded organization). When the cousin verifies that the husband is in fact still playing poker they devise a plan of action.

The cousin enlists the help of his all male bible study class to dress as policemen and raid the poker game. Meanwhile the wife has contacted all the other poker players’ wives and told them to meet her at the address where the poker club is. The fake police rush in first, startling the men and stopping the game cold. After a few seconds of confusion the wives enter the room and each goes to her husband finger pointing and chastising. The End.

John Bunny was a very fat man. One thing I have noticed in watching these early silent comedies was that there was almost always an incredibly obese person, usually a man, somewhere in the movie. Fatty Arbuckle would become the most successful of this type, but John Bunny was one of the first famous “fat” picture actors. The cousin Teddy character represents another common stereotype. He is fastidious and effeminate, has fussy hand movements, belongs to a bible study group and clearly deplores poker. He immediately takes the wife’s side in the situation. Any modern audience would see him as obviously gay. There were many characters like this in movies in those days. They were always supporting characters such as an unmarried uncle, a cousin or maybe a butler, tailor or waiter.

Like the stereotypical fat man and fey man, only in even smaller roles, were black characters, notice the black man playing a waiter at the poker club in this movie. Minorities were always there, in the background, since the dawn of the motion picture. Still being an extra or supporting character in a movie wasn’t so bad. As Hattie McDaniel so famously said, “I’d rather play a maid than be one.” It's a comedy for people with heart conditions. Worried, lest this audience might die of shock if something funny, entertaining or interesting happens, Vitagraph studios decided to make a movie that isn't any of those things so as not to put undue strains on their condition. Seriously, this is the longest build-up to the lamest practical joke in history.

Although he’s largely forgotten today, John Bunny was once a major silent star and comedian. He pre-dated the careers of the better-remembered slapstick specialists Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd, and was, in his day, one of the most recognizable faces in cinema. Unlike those other men, he wasn’t young and attractive when he got his start in film, but portly, middle aged, and cragged, with heavy jowls and white hair. He had been a successful actor on stage, but chose to make the move to film because of his enthusiasm for the possibilities of the new medium. His frequent co-star was Flora Finch (also in “Those Awful Hats“), and movies such as this, with the both of them as stars, were known as “Bunnyfinches.”

In this one, they play a married couple. Bunny has a weekly poker game, at which he loses badly, and Finch makes him swear to stop. His friends come up with an out, pretending to have started a fraternal organization which meets once a week. She then employs her cousin, and his friends in a local bible study group, to follow him and discover his doings. When they catch the poker game, they disguise themselves as policemen, and stage a phony raid, agreeing to place the men in custody of their wives. The humor in this piece is not at all slapstick, and is based rather on period tropes and stereotypes, although Bunny’s performance and Finch’s are worth seeing as exemplars of the period.




Laurence Trimble

Laurence Norwood Trimble (February 15, 1885 – February 8, 1954) was an American silent film director, writer and actor. Trimble began his film career directing Jean, the Vitagraph Dog, the first canine to have a leading role in motion pictures. He made his acting debut in the 1910 silent Saved by the Flag, directed scores of films for Vitagraph and other studios, and became head of production for Florence Turner's independent film company in England (1913–1916). Trimble was most widely known for his four films starring Strongheart, a German Shepherd dog he discovered and trained that became the first major canine film star. After he left filmmaking he trained animals exclusively, particularly guide dogs for the blind.

With his wife Jane Murfin, he brought Strongheart the Dog to the United States, and tirelessly trained the former police dog to overcome his more dangerous tendencies. Ultimately, Strongheart became a champion dog, and later the first dog star in motion pictures.

In 1908 he sold a story about a dog to a New York magazine. The magazine hired him as a writer, and one day sent him to Vitagraph Studios to do a story about making movies. He took his dog, Jean, along with him and arrived at the studio at just the time when a unit was filming a scene with Florence Turner and needed a dog. They hired both Trimble and Jean, and after the scene was shot both were asked to stay on. Trimble soon became a director and shot a series of very popular films starring his dog, Jean. He later developed into one of Vitagraph's most important directors.

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