Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: John Bunny

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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Her Crowning Glory (1911)

Before there was a “big three” (or four, or five) comedians, before Keystone Studios, before almost anyone (except Ben Turpin), there was John Bunny, the best-known film comedian of his day. Bunny was a large man with a red face and a larger-than-life style of acting. His frequent co-star, Flora Finch, was thin, pinched-faced, and demure. Together, they made a series recalled as the “bunnyfinch” shorts. We’ll be looking at one of those today.

A strong reaction to a hairdo.

A strong reaction to a hairdo.

John stars as an apparently wealthy widower with a small daughter. His daughter is becoming spoiled, as John’s instinct is to indulge her and let her get away with whatever she wants. A “friend” who looks like a typical D.W. Griffith-style bluenosed busybody comes over and tells him the child needs discipline. She recommends a governess of her acquaintance, emphasizing that she is a “strict disciplinarian.” The governess is, of course, Flora Finch. Although when she arrives her long hair is tied up, Bunny shows considerable attraction to it – despite the fact that Finch has been made up to look even uglier than usual. John’s daughter does not take to Flora, however, sticking her with a pin and otherwise being bratty. The relationship proceeds along these lines, with John being fascinated by Flora’s hair, and the child being as contrary as possible, until Bunny proposes to Finch. She happily says yes, and the maid now decides she needs to take action. That night, she gives the little girl a pair of scissors while Flora is combing her hair before bed. Exhausted (probably from running after the child all day!), Flora falls asleep in her chair and the child gives her a haircut while she snoozes. John wakes her with a kiss, but when he sees what has happened, he calls off the wedding, and Flora leaves in shame. John and the child go back to playing as before, and there is an indication that John has noticed how attractive the maid is for the first time.

Don't try this at home, kids!

Don’t try this at home, kids!

John Bunny was not known as a slapstick comedian; his movies are “situational” in their humor. This one seems fairly average, based on the few I’ve seen. It’s a little funny, in terms of the situation, but doesn’t really get me laughing very hard. The most interesting part of the movie is the child, played by Helene Costello (who would become an adult star in the twenties), whose willfulness and dislike of snooty adults is compelling. Silent movie children are often much more natural than their sound-era counterparts, confirming the old adage that “children should be seen but not heard.” Helene does look at the camera once or twice, and does seem to follow instructions from off-screen as she spies on her daddy with the governess. The contrast between Finch and Bunny is played up here – it helps to sell us on the idea that Finch is not the right woman for him, he is simply distracted by her head of hair. The movie is shot in a conventional manner for 1911 (few edits, long shots, stationary camera), but does include an important close-up on the hair as it is cut.

Director: Lawrence Trimble

Camera: Unknown

Starring: John Bunny, Flora Finch, Helene Costello, Kate Price

Run Time: 14 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Little Nemo (1911)

Little_Nemo

So far, in my exploration of early movies, I haven’t talked at all about early experiments in animation. That ends today, with the addition of the first known film by Winsor McCay, who also wrote the comic strip that “Dream of a Rarebit Fiend” was based on. This movie is based on his best-known and most beloved strip, “Little Nemo in Slumberland,” which was about a boy who dreamt wild and wonderful things each night, and awoke in the last panel of each episode. The movie, however, doesn’t really do much with that theme, and is more about the process of animation. Most of it is live-action sequences in which McCay bets his friends he can make drawing move, collects prodigious amounts of paper and ink, and then toils away at drawing each individual picture. Finally, at the end, we get a brief animated sequence (with some hand-colored sections, in the version I watched) in which characters from “Little Nemo” dance, fight, and interact with each other. A good deal of the screen time is taken up by watching McCay draw his famous characters – sometimes with his hand visible, in a slightly fast-motion live action, and sometimes through “animation” (no hand visible). It’s safe to say that this served mostly as a way for McCay to convince Vitagraph that the technology and interest existed to make this worth pursuing further.

AKA: Winsor McKay, the Famous Cartoonist of the New York Herald and his Moving Comics

Director: Winsor McCay

Camera: Walter Arthur

Starring: Winsor McKay, John Bunny, George McManus

Run Time: 11 Min, 33 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.

Troublesome Secretaries (1911)

John Bunny

This is another example of John Bunny’s “situational” style of silent comedy, as opposed to the more familiar “slapstick” comedy of later years. In this case, he pairs up with later Chaplin co-star Mabel Normand rather than his more typical opposite, Flora Finch. Normand, still in her teens at this time, plays Bunny’s daughter, who is secretly in love with a young man played by Ralph Ince (who also directed this, as well as “Fatty’s Affair of Honor” and “The Lucky Elopement”). Bunny wants to hire a secretary, and Ralph and Mabel conspire to make sure he hires Ralph. However, Bunny is concerned about his young charge’s interest in the new employee, so he tries hiring a female secretary. She’s in on the game, of course, so pretends to fall in love with Bunny, who has to discharge her from embarrassment. Finally, he tries advertising for old men, so Ralph puts on a white beard and dodders about, showing himself to be more feeble than any other candidate. Bunny hires him, no work gets done, and Mabel and Ralph can smooch in peace. Again, this may not work as well as a classic Chaplin short if shown to a modern audience, but it is an interesting example of the kind of thing audiences went for during the Nickelodeon period.

AKA: The Troublesome Secretaries; or, How Betty Outwitted Her Father

Director: Ralph Ince

Starring: John Bunny, Mabel Normand, Ralph Ince

Run Time: 8 Min 42 seconds.

You can watch it for free: here.

Cure for Pokeritis (1912)

Cure for Pokeritis

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.

Director: Laurence Trimble

Studio: Vitagraph

Starring: John Bunny, Flora Finch, Harry T. Morey.

Run Time: 13 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Fandom of 1914

MotionPicture0714

Movies were still new in 1914, and they didn’t have credits, but audiences were becoming obsessed with their favorite stories, players, and directors. Some alert journalists and gossip columnists were catching on to the existence of a new nobility of actors and stars that could be exploited for public interest, hence the rise of fan magazines. I ran across this example of a century fanzine a few months ago, and have taken some time to peruse its contents before reporting back. My impression is that this was intended for a comfortably middle-class white audience, and it’s infused with a number of efforts to suggest ways that the motion pictures are (or could be) socially beneficial. A lot of what you’ll find here are depictions, caricatures, and drawings of the named stars themselves. John Bunny (we’ll see some of his movies later this week) is still big, even though Chaplin and Arbuckle seem like the important comedians of that year to us now. Mabel Normand is another recognizable face, and we also see Lillian Gish and Henry B. Walthall, but a lot of the names and faces have since faded, making this an interesting document for historical study. A number of the “articles” are in fact plot summaries of films in release – sort of the first novelizations, I suppose. In that vein, we get “The Ethics of the Profession,” “The Hand of Horror,” “The House of Darkness,” “Cast Adrift in the South Seas,” “Neptune’s Daughter,” “Captain Alvarez,” and “The Song in the Dark.” I also found interesting the articles on the different “types” of moving picture audiences “good and bad” motion picture theaters and the suggestions for what the next improvement for films should be. Here’s a hint: no one says “sound,” but one commenter does call for the addition of credits!

Motion Picture Magazine’s July 1914 issue is available for free: here.