Monday, December 01, 2014

Is The Last Deal the First Poker Movie?

For a good while I’ve been under the impression -- and have written and said so on more than one occasion -- that the 1912 short A Cure for Pokeritis was almost assuredly the oldest “poker movie.”

A couple of years ago the 12-minute silent film starring John Bunny and Flora Finch was selected by the Library of Congress as one of the 25 films they pick each year to be added to the National Film Registry.

The selection was done mostly because of Bunny starring in the film, I believe, to help underscore the comic actor’s important place in film history after having starred in more than 150 productions during the silent era. But as I’ve written about the movie also helps highlight poker’s prominence in the early-20th century, another reason why A Cure for Pokeritis might like other selected films be said to have “enduring significance to American culture.”

You can read more about A Cure for Pokeritis plus watch the film embedded in a post here. Meanwhile, I was snooping around recently to find at least one poker-themed film to have predated that one.

It’s called The Last Deal and was written and directed in 1910 for Biograph by D.W. Griffith (Birth of a Nation, Intolerance). Running about 11 minutes, it tells a story not unlike the one told in A Cure for Pokeritis, although apparently in more of a dramatic than comic vein.

Like in Pokeritis, The Last Deal presents poker and gambling as a kind of illness in need of curing. A character is introduced as an addict whose poker-playing threatens to lose him his job and family until his brother-in-law comes along to help him with his “gambling fever” (so go the synopses). There’s also a classic (or clichéd) four-aces-versus-four-kings hand somewhere in there, too, I’ve discovered.

The Last Deal stars Owen Moore who appears in a lot of Griffith productions and was secretly married to Mary Pickford with whom he appeared in several films.

Not really seeing The Last Deal as readily available online as is Pokeritis, although I think there are existing copies including on VHS. It was included as part of a series of RKO shorts in the 1940s called Flicker Flashbacks, albeit in an imperfect form. That series (created in the 1940s) involved chopping up old silent shorts and adding soundtracks for comic effect, so one would only get a partial glimpse of the film there. It also might pop up in one of the many compilations of Griffith shorts out there.

I’ve only just started looking in earnest for it, though, so perhaps there’s a more obvious way to get ahold of it of which I’ve yet to discover.

(Faux title card above aided by CopyCatFilms.)

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