Wednesday, August 3, 2011
“The Perils of Pauline” (1914)
“The Perils of Pauline” (1914) is a silent serial starring Pearl White, Crane Wilbur and Paul Panzer. Directed by Louis J. Gasnier and Donald MacKenzie, this serial is the most popular of the silent serials. Even though “The Perils of Pauline” (1914) was originally twenty episodes, only the nine episode European release survives.
The serial begins with the death of Pauline’s uncle and the takeover by his trusted secretary as Pauline’s guardian until she gets married. Although Pauline’s boyfriend is loyal, he is not that smart, and the guardian is constantly trying to kill her to gain her inheritance.
Using Pathe plays and players, early in 1914, Eclectic got under way “The Perils of Pauline,” which was to make Pearl White one of the legendary figures of the twentieth century and keep her for most of her career hanging over cliffs, escaping from sunken submarines and nearly dying in sabotaged airplanes. Much of “The Perils of Pauline” were shot in Fort Lee, New Jersey when many early film studios were based there. A few of the episodes were actually filmed on or around the New Jersey Palisades.
Pearl White was born on March 4, 1889 in Green Ridge, Missouri, and was the youngest of five children. Her parents moved to the town of Springfield, Missouri, where she had a normal childhood, growing up with a developing interest in the theater. In 1910, she was having trouble with her throat, and her voice began to fail from the rigors of nightly theatrical performances. She made her debut in films that year, starring in a long series of one-reel dramas and comedies for the Powers Film Company in the Bronx, New York. Pearl’s big break came in 1913 with a three-reel film titled “Through Air and Fire,” the beginning episode of the famous serial, “The Perils of Pauline.” The series was translated into many different languages and cemented her name and image as an icon of the silent screen. “The Exploits of Elaine” series followed in 1914, then “The New Exploits of Elaine” and “The Romance of Elaine,” both in 1915. Other serials continued her worldwide popularity in spellbounding horrors. Unfortunately, most of these serial episodes have been lost to the ravages of time and decomposition. Their vogue waned in the 1920’s, and Pearl transitioned to the new genre of feature films. Pearl White was destined to be a serial star, but her feature films are fascinating because of the courage it took for her to defy the restrictions of typecasting. One of these, released by William Fox is “The Thief” (1920). Pearl’s final work was in one more serial, believed by most contemporary reviewers to be the best of her body of work, a fifteen chapter serial called “Plunder” (1923). In 1923, after having earned and saved millions of dollars, Pearl retired in France. She came out of retirement to make one additional film, “Terror” (1924). Pearl died in Neuilly, France, on August 4, 1938.