John Bunny was a successful New York stage performer who showed up at Vitagraph's Brooklyn film studio in 1909 and quickly became even more successful as a movie actor. Bunny and his contemporary Fred Mace (they never worked together) were the first two American film comedians, in the sense of a performer who played a recurring recognisable character from one film to the next. Hugely popular in his own right, Bunny became even more successful when Vitagraph teamed him with English actress Flora Finch in a low-budget series of domestic comedies popularly called "bunnyfinches".
Although the formula sometimes varied, Finch and Bunny typically played a Maggie-and-Jiggs married couple, with easy-going Bunny simply wanting to relax with his cronies out of earshot of shrewish wife Finch. While I recognise Bunny's talent as an actor, many of the "bunnyfinch" films don't work for me, because I find Flora Finch a genuinely ingratiating performer, and I tend to sympathise with her screen character rather than Bunny's. In real life, Finch and Bunny loathed each other: she found him coarse and vulgar, and she was shocked by his lack of hygiene. Despite Bunny's enormous popularity, when he died (in 1915) he left an estate of only $8,000. Flora Finch tried to maintain her popularity as a solo turn ... but Bunny had always been the one the audiences favoured; without him, Finch's career degenerated into supporting character roles.
I viewed a print of 'Which Way Did He Go?' which had its last few minutes missing. Bunny plays his usual henpecked husband role opposite Finch: this time, to spell it out for us, his character is named Mr Henpecko! Although most of the bunnyfinches cast them as a married couple, this instalment is atypical for another reason: in 'Which Way Did He Go?', Bunny and Finch have an attractive daughter on the brink of adulthood (Lillian Walker). Lillian is in love with handsome Wally Van, and the two of them plan to marry, with beaming Bunny's approval. But of course Flora is opposed to the marriage; she has picked out stumbling Hughie Mack to be her daughter's husband.
As usual in the bunnyfinches, the audience's sympathy here is expected to be WITH Bunny and AGAINST Finch. Henpecked Bunny is too timid to stand up to his shrewish wife, but his daughter's happiness is his foremost concern. We see Bunny gently consoling his heartsick daughter, and conniving to help her elope with Wally. At this point, the print I was screening abruptly ends ... presumably the complete print offered a happy elopement for the lovers, and Flora's grudging consent to the marriage. Based on the footage seen here, I've no idea what the title 'Which Way Did He Go?' means: I'm guessing that Bunny is the 'He' of the title, and he takes a wrong turn while driving the getaway car for his daughter's elopement.
Like Flora Finch, I usually find Bunny gross and vulgar. But I was genuinely touched here, by a scene in which Bunny as Mr Henpecko consoles his weeping daughter. Holding this adult woman in his arms, Bunny gently rocks her back and forth ... and, just for a moment, his face seems to light up with fond memories of gently rocking his daughter to sleep when she was a child. It's a magical instant, and sharp proof of Bunny's genuine talent as an actor despite the ridiculous story lines he was often lumbered with. It's a shame that he died before talkies arrived. (So did Fred Mace.) As I've only seen an incomplete print of this film, I shan't rate it ... but 'Which Way Did He Go?' contains one of the best John Bunny performances I've ever seen.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?