Largely forgotten today, actor John Bunny merits significant historical importance as the American film industry's earliest comic superstar. A stage actor prior to the start of his film career, Bunny starred in over 150 Vitagraph Company productions from 1910 until his death in 1915. Many of his films (affectionately known as \"Bunnygraphs\") were gentle \"domestic\" comedies, in which he portrayed a henpecked husband alongside co-star Flora Finch. \"A Cure for Pokeritis\" exemplifies the genre, as Finch conspires with similarly displeased wives to break up their husbands' weekly poker game. When Bunny died in 1915, a New York Times editorial noted that \"Thousands who had never heard him speak...recognized him as the living symbol of wholesome merriment.\" The paper presciently commented on the importance of preserving motion pictures and sound recordings for future generations: \"His loss will be felt all over the country, and the films, which preserve his humorous personality in action, may in time have a new value. It is a subject worthy of reflection, the value of a perfect record of a departed singer's voice, of the photographic films perpetuating the drolleries of a comedian who developed such extraordinary capacity for acting before the camera.\"Expanded essay by Steve Massa (PDF, 625KB)
C. Allen Alexander, an African American surgeon from Michigan, convinced George Washington Carver to allow him to shoot 16 mm color footage of the famed botanist and inventor at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Alexander wisely shot the film using gloriously resilient Kodachrome, ensuring the colors remain stunningly vibrant and rich. The 12 minutes of fascinating amateur footage include scenes of Carver in his apartment, office and laboratory, as well as images of him tending flowers and displaying his paintings. Also included is footage of a Tuskegee Institute football game and the school's marching band and majorettes. The National Archives has digitized the film as part of its multi-year effort to preserve and make available the historically significant film collections of the National Park Service. The footage can be seen on NARA's YouTube channel at =5_yn6Qz81Y8 External.
Charles Laughton, known for such serious roles as Nero, King Henry XIII and later as the 1935 Captain Bligh, takes on comedy in this tale of an English manservant won in a poker game by American Charlie Ruggles, a member of Red Gap, Washington's extremely small social elite. Laughton, in understated valet fashion, worriedly responds: \"North America, my lord. Quite an untamed country I understand.\" However, once in America, he finds not uncouth backwoodsmen, but rather a more egalitarian society that soon has Laughton reciting the Gettysburg Address, catching the American spirit and becoming a successful businessman. Aided by comedy stalwarts ZaSu Pitts and Roland Young, Laughton really shows his acting range and pulls off comedy perfectly. It didn't hurt that Leo McCarey, who had just worked with W.C. Fields and would next guide Harold Lloyd, was in the director's chair. McCarey, who could pull heartstrings or touch funny bones with equal skill, started his long directorial career working with such comedy icons as Laurel & Hardy and created several beloved American films.
Before \"They Call It Pro Football\" premiered, football films were little more than highlight reels set to the oom-pah of a marching band. In 1964, National Football League commissioner Pete Rozelle agreed to the formation of NFL Films. With a background in public relations, he recognized that the success of the league depended on its image on television, which required creating a mystique. \"They Call It Pro Football,\" the first feature of NFL Films, looked at the game \"in dramaturgical terms,\" capturing the struggle, not merely the outcome, of games played on the field. Written and produced by Steve Sabol, directed by John Hentz and featuring the commanding cadence of narrator John Facenda and the music of Sam Spence, the film presented football on an epic scale and in a way rarely seen by the spectator. Telephoto lenses brought close-ups of players' faces into viewers' living rooms. Slow motion revealed surprising intricacy and grace. Sweeping ground-to-sky shots imparted a \"heroic angle.\" Coaches and players wearing microphones let the audience in on strategy and emotion. \"They Call It Pro Football\" established a mold for subsequent productions by NFL Films and has well earned its characterization as the \"Citizen Kane\" of sports movies.Expanded essay by Ed Carter (PDF, 281KB) 59ce067264