Some stars of the silent era are inexplicably forgotten and neglected. Comedy star Johnny Hines is a case in point. Eclipsed by the “big three” of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, Hines is so forgotten that there was not even a page dedicated to him on Wikipedia until 2015.
Despite the fact that he and his films have largely disappeared off the radar, Hines was a popular star of the 1910s and 1920s, with his likeable, good-natured persona bringing genuine warmth to his vehicles. Sure, he wasn’t the artist that Keaton, Chaplin or Lloyd were, but then not everyone is a genius, and you don’t have to be a genius to make a fun films. For British audiences, Hines could perhaps be classed as the silent era equivalent of Norman Wisdom. Hines entered the movies around 1913 or 1914, at just eighteen years old, and his years at the top ended abruptly with the coming of sound, although he stuck around in small character parts for another decade or so before retiring completely from the film industry.
Conductor 1492 is one of the best of his surviving and available films, and was written by Hines himself and directed by his brother, Charles Hines (as were many of his films from the period). Here he plays a streetcar conductor who inadvertently finds himself trying to save the company from a bunch of crooks, while trying to attract the attentions of his boss’s daughter at the same time. It’s relatively routine stuff for the most part, but highly enjoyable, and there are certain sequences that are wonderfully put together. Perhaps most notable among these involves Hines’s attempt to jump the queue to the bathroom in the guest house in which he lives. While mostly known for his affable characters, here he also shows some great comic invention and the sequence ends with the unforgettable image of Hines covered from head to foot in soap in the shower with a huge grin on his face. That grin is likely to be on the faces of those watching as well.
The trade journal Film Daily gave the film a mostly positive review, calling it a “good comedy with a fine share of laughs”, and telling cinema managers that “if your folks enjoy laughing you can count on Conductor 1492”. Interestingly, the article also suggests managers hiring a trolley car to promote the film. Alternatively, there was also the possibility of hiring “an old horse car and have it going around the streets prominently displaying a slogan reading “This car is in charge of Conductor 1492”. Yep, that would work.