Directed by Laurence Trimble
After Poker at Dawson City kicked us off with a depiction of a poker brawl, following that up with a film whose title literally refers to the game as a disease is not exactly the trajectory I would have hoped for game I love, but it’s also not too surprising given the long-standing stigma often associated with the game, operating under the assumption that it’s a game of chance and therefore gambling. I won’t sit here and claim luck isn’t involved, and that it isn’t a form of gambling, but I will sit here and argue that poker is largely a game of skill that, over the long run, the best players will win all the money, and the worst will lose it all. Of course with a film like A Cure for Pokeritis, gambling addiction is portrayed as associated with poker, and it’s a valid depiction. But of course it can only be a gambling addiction for a losing player, right? Ultimately, winners can be addicts too, and most likely are to some extent, but that is the balancing act in a game where perhaps 80% is skill and 20% is luck, which I would contend.
So that brings us to Mr. Sharpe (John Bunny), an affable husband to Mrs. Sharpe (Fiona Finch). Mr. Sharpe is a poker enthusiast, frequenting a weekly game at the club, where he often is stripped of his money to the great displeasure of Mrs. Sharpe. Swearing away the game once and for all to appease his wife, Mr. Sharpe devises a sneaky way of getting the game back together: make up a weekly Christian club, closed to all non-members, and which features a monetary penalty for missing a week! With the game back on, Mrs. Sharpe becomes suspicious once more, soliciting the help of her cousin to investigate where Mr. Sharpe is going every week. When the ploy is discovered, Mrs. Sharpe meets with the other wives who have likewise been duped and devices a plan to organize a fake police raid to teach their men a lesson.
Before I get into any of the poker of it all, I want to take a moment to discuss John Bunny, a name I was unfamiliar with (likely because early silent films are a major blindspot for me), but which the internet tells me was a pretty important performer in the early days of cinema as a comedic actor who knew early the impact of motion pictures as compared to the stage. Often teamed with Fiona Finch as a comedic duo, the pair trailblazed the domestic comedy genre, with Bunny appearing in over 150 films before his untimely death in 1915. I can see his charm and attraction in his performance here. As mentioned, he’s an affable buffoon in many ways and while his performance is over the top, many were in the silent era in order to express themselves to the audience without the use of words and sound. His performance through the journey of Mr. Sharpe really endeared me to his character, even if I thought he was an idiot and definitely a gambling addict.
Once again, no actual poker is shown, but its depiction here is still fairly negative, with its fanatics lying to their wives and in the case of Sharpe losing most of his money. It’s definitely a pitfall of the game, but can teach a valuable lesson to those who enjoy playing the game. I love the game, I would play it for “play money” and still try my hardest to compete. But others need that added incentive for either a thrill or motivation to play their best. For those, it’s important to remember to play within your means. Don’t play with more money than you’re willing to lose. For instance, in my home game, the most money I might win or lose is about $100, which when you consider we play once a month, is ultimately not a lot of money. But if we were to raise the stakes, there is a risk that some, myself included, could begin to be affected by the amount we could lose. A Cure for Pokeritis is a cautionary tale which clearly has a negative view of the game, not offering any of these resolutions on its own, but it’s one of the most important lessons for poker players: bankroll management. Make sure you have enough money to play the stakes you play so the money ultimately won’t affect your day to day life.
The other element that makes this film a negative on the reputation of poker is, as mentioned, the title of the film and the implication that poker is a disease you can catch and should otherwise be avoided. The “cure” for pokeritis in this case is the embarrassment and threat of ruin by the staged police raid, presumably frightening Sharpe to the point that he gives up the game and returns to the home to be a good husband to his concerned wife. And here we have the first example of the wet blanket girlfriend that eventually gets perfected by the Gretchen Mol character in the poker movie classic Rounders. In both cases, each has a legitimate concern with their men, where Sharpe is a consistently losing player and putting the family at risk of ruin. For Rounders, and we’ll get there eventually, Matt Damon is clearly a sharp player capable of winning, and winning lots, and Mol’s character’s lack of understanding of the game and the calculated risks makes her annoying and therefore “wet blanket”. In the end, A Cure for Pokeritis is an interesting touchstone in the cultural depiction of the game, but otherwise doesn’t do a whole lot for me in terms of entertainment and enrichment.