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Monday, October 27, 2014

Bert Williams, A Natural Born Gambler (1916)

(The History Blog)
no copyright infringement intended

A Natural Born Gambler from 1916, 22 minutes long, one of the three movies having Bert Williams as director, writer and star. The cinematographer is Billy Bitzer.

A group of black gentlemen, organized in some kind of fraternity or lodge whatever, meets regularly in the back room of a bar to discuss matters of interest, their reunions ending in drinking or gambling or both. However gambling seems to be forbidden those days, so the guys have to be careful not to be discovered by the police. Among them the Honorable Bert Williams, kind of a walking delegate, which means big mouth and vague duties, always in debt and in need of money, always trying to cheat for the pleasure of game, always loosing. On the wall a torn-out image of President Lincoln, like a Deus Otiosus no longer interested in the daily operation of this rapidly decaying world, while seemingly taking pleasure in watching this very movie (he from the wall where's hanging, we from this other side of the screen). Watching this movie is like visiting a nostalgia shop: each scene looks like an incredible memorabilia.

Of course the police discovers the gamblers and brings them in front of the judge. The only one put in jail is (you gotcha) no other than our main hero (only for ten days, it's a comedy, not a drama). While in prison, he plays imaginary poker games, where he keeps on loosing: his pantomime is genial.

The movie comes with all racial stereotypes of the epoch: the rule by then was that the interpret of a black personage had to do minstreling, which meant to shoe-black his face and whiten his lips for the contrast; the intertitles followed another rule, to spell the fractured English supposed to be the blacks' parlance; and many other things like that. No wonder, the movie was made in 1916. It looks now completely anti-PC, but in those days the political correctness was just the opposite.

(Bert Williams)

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