Hearts and Diamonds (1914)
This short “Bunnyfinch” from Vitagraph packs quite a lot into its half-hour run time: comedy deception, mistaken identity, generational conflict, and, oh yes, baseball, are all represented. Stars John Bunny and Flora Finch were at the height of their fame at the time: probably better-known than that Chaplin fellow still making one-reelers over at Keystone.
The movie begins with Bunny, as “Widower Tupper,” learning that a wealthy widow (Finch) will be coming to town and devising a plan to woo her. First, he has to kick out his own young daughters (Ethel Lloyd and Ethel Corcoran), since for some reason he thinks he’ll do better if he pretends to be single. However, on arriving home, he finds them entertaining a group of “young bloods” (college boys with various musical instruments), so he rages at the boys and throws them out, breaking various objects in the process. Then he makes the girls pack and takes them over to the very deaf Uncle William (William Shea). Once he manages to make William understand the situation, William’s butler shows them to their rooms.
Tupper sees the Widow on her way to a ball game and follows in a car. He manages to sit next to her and makes an impression by bullying a fellow (and tweaking his nose) that was giving her a hard time for hitting him with her purse while applauding. However, she makes it clear that she’s really only interested in ball players, so he makes up a new plan. He arranges with his club-mates to form a baseball team and have a local team (actually the Brooklyn Tip-Tops) take a five in a convincing “exhibition game.” Two of the daughters’ beaus see his newspaper ad for a catcher and a pitcher and so they enlist, with the understanding that if their team wins, they’ll marry the daughters.
The next sequence is a surprisingly long and detailed depiction of the game, showing almost an entire inning’s worth of play. In classic Harlem Globetrotter’s style, the game begins poorly for our team, with three men quickly struck out and Bunny himself challenged for trying to use the wrong bat. But, in the next at-bat, one of the club members managers to walk to first (having first to be shown the way by the other team), and Bunny hits a home run that wins the game (he’s rolled into home plate in a wheelbarrow). The widow is thrilled at first, but then becomes angry when she learns that he has daughters, who use the confusion as an opportunity to run off with the beaus. Bunny pursues them in a car, still in his baseball uniform.
A new subplot is introduced as we learn that an escaped lunatic, dressed as a ball player, is somewhere in the vicinity. Of course, when the locals see Bunny running around in his uniform, they capture him and take him to the asylum, hoping for a reward. This gives the daughters enough time to get married, and Bunny again expresses his anger by tweaking noses and raging. Now, however, the real lunatic breaks into Flora’s home and menaces her, and Bunny, with the assistance of a policeman, is able to subdue him and rescue her. Thus, all is forgiven, and the movie ends with three happy marriages.
This is actually a pretty ambitious comedy for 1914, with essentially three movie-storylines carried out in a single short. There are also a lot of extras, including two ball teams (I wasn’t able to confirm it, but I believe the Tip-Tops appear in their own uniforms), a lot of spectators, various bystanders and passersby. A lot of them are obviously not professional actors, and they look at the camera or stare at the principle players in obvious amusement at their antics. The surprise performance was actually the escaped lunatic, who mugs outrageously and virtually slobbers on poor Flora. There’s an interesting shot at the ball park, showing all the people on top of neighboring buildings, watching the game for free. Must have been prime real estate in those days! The movie makes reasonable use of close-ups and editing, although nothing really innovative for the time occurs. This is the longest Bunnyfinch I’ve been able to see, and the two stars acquit themselves well, though much of the humor hinges on Bunny’s rages and Finch’s distressed gestures. It’s easy to see how their style of comedy worked for the Nickelodeon era, but also not surprising that it was superseded as audiences got used to more technical work and more physical performances, as with those of Keaton and Chaplin.
Director: George D. Baker
Starring: John Bunny, Flora Finch, Ethel Lloyd, Ethyl Corcoran, William Shea, Charles Eldridge
Run Time: 33 Min
I have not been able to find the complete film for free on the Internet. A clip is viewable: here.