I’ve had one clip for some time that I’ve yet to introduce into the course, mainly because I haven’t really thought too much about it and where it might fit into the overall narrative we build in the class. I usually try to tie these clips to certain discussions or issues that come up. For example, when we talk about the Old West and the image of the cowboy and how poker played into that image, I’ve been showing scenes from old Westerns such as Tall in the Saddle (the John Wayne film I’ve written about here before).
But this one I have yet to find a place for, a scene from the 1922 silent comedy Dr. Jack starring Harold Lloyd. I like it, though, and so will probably try to include it somewhere this time around.
Here’s the scene (with some extra music and French subtitles to go along with those title cards):
Dr. Jack is one of Lloyd’s lesser-known films. Most who know of him have seen Safety Last! (1923), the one with the iconic image of Lloyd hanging from a large clock, or perhaps The Freshman (1925) which finds him attempting to earn some popularity at college by joining the football team. Those are the only other Lloyd films I’ve seen, I think, and both are highly entertaining.
He’s good in Dr. Jack as well where he plays the title character attempting to help a sick girl whose family is being taken advantage of by a rival, unscrupulous doctor. The movie is really mostly just a series of loosely-connected gags allowing Lloyd to do his usual stunts and often impressive physical comedy, which actually makes the poker scene easy to snip out of the film and present separately.
I could probably fit the clip in among others that demonstrate cheating being prevalent in early-era poker, although the cheating that happens here is a little different from the other examples I have. Looking at it again, I’m realizing how a poker game can be presented coherently and even with lots of nuance in a silent film. There’s something about the drama inherent in a poker hand that captures the attention, with the suspense built looking forward to the hand’s outcome having its effect whether or not we hear what players are saying.
It’s a carefully constructed scene, if you think about it. In fact, this is probably the most elaborate poker hand I can think of from a silent film. Of course, Lloyd’s animated expressions help him carry it. Unlike his contemporary Buster Keaton -- who often gets described as “poker-faced,” actually -- Lloyd usually possesses a more dynamic countenance that perhaps for some makes him a little more “human”-seeming.
The exaggerated reactions of the old fogies at the showdown are pretty funny, too. Everyone was so focused on their aces... they forgot to pay attention to the Jack!