Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Perils of Pauline (1914) - Silently Hanging From a Cliff

Y'know, there are certain cliches that one thinks of when they think of the old movie serials: the fair damsel tied to the railroad tracks by the dastardly villain only to be rescued at the seeming last instant, the hero trapped inside a burning house, the runaway car speeding too quickly along a twisting mountain road, and, of course, the giant boulder rolling faster and faster down a hill as our poor protagonist tries to find a way to avoid being crushed. (What, you thought that was an Indiana Jones original? Sorry, nope.) Well, like they say, all cliches start somewhere, and this serial, starring Pearl White as Pauline, is where a good many of them had their beginning.

After the death of her Uncle, Pauline is set to inherit a large fortune as soon as she is married. Until then, the money is to be held in trust by her Uncle's trusted secretary, Koerner (originally known as Raymond Owen, but we'll get to that in a moment.) Of course her lovable but puppy doggish boyfriend says they should be married immediately, but the adventurous Pauline has other ideas. Before she settles down to the life of a housewife, she wants to see the world and have some adventure. To that end, she promises that she will marry him in a year, but first, she must travel.

Well, if Pauline's idea is to pack a lifetime of travel and adventure into a year, I would say she certainly succeeds. Each chapter finds her in a new exotic location, and along the way she not only faces the machinations of the fiendish villain Koerner, but Native Americans, gypsies, and even pirates!

Originally 20 chapters long, The Perils of Pauline was cut to nine for international distribution, and that is, unfortunately, the only version that is known to survive today. Also, the intertitle cards in this version were somewhat badly retranslated into English from French, resulting in some odd grammar at times, and the change in name of the main villain. Nonetheless, the serial retains a charm and uniqueness that makes it still entertaining today.

A couple of other notes on this serial. Though rightly known as a cliff-hanger, the serial does not end each chapter with pauline in some dire trouble that must be resolved at the beginning of the next. Instead, the peril is resolved within the chapter, and the draw for the next week is simply to see what kind of trouble our heroine will get into next. Also, remarkably in this day of CGI and insurance companies that are afraid to let movie stars even get breathed on very hard, it must be noted that Pearl White actually did most of the stunts in this serial herself, which adds quite a bit to the tension of the scenes. 

Here's a section from the first chapter which shows the death of Pauline's uncle, the beginnings of Koerner's troublemaking, and Pauline's first "peril", as she is trapped alone in a runaway hot air balloon. Oh, and yes, it does end with our hroine and her boyfriend trapped on the side of a cliff.

And the Skinny:
Title: The Perils of Pauline
Release Date: 1914
Number of Chapters: Originally 20, European Cut: 9
Tinted B/W
Starring: Pearl White
Directed by: Louis J. Gasnier, Donald MacKenzie
Distributed by: General Film Company & Eclectic Film Company

The Perils of Pauline is available on DVD from independent sellers through Amazon: Perils of Pauline (1914 Serial).
Unfortunately, I have been unable to find a good download source for all nine chapters of the serial, but if anyone knows of one, I'd appreciatw the info.

Until next time, (when we'll be following up with the 1947 feature film which turns Pearl White's adventures making this serial into a technicolor musical) Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian


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