Without it, we wouldn’t have films like Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark, which are filled with call backs to the serials of yesteryear.
The 101 Action Movies brought me one of the first, The Perils of Pauline. Unfortunately, the entire serial no longer exists. It was apparently composed of 20 episodes running about 20 minutes each, only 9 of them are known to remain. Happily YouTube came to my rescue and I was able to watch them.
Pauline (Pearl White) is a feisty young woman, who wants to get out and see the world, live some adventure, and then become an author. She lives as a ward of her uncle, her cousin Harry (Crane Wilbur) seems to fancy her, and her uncle wants them to marry (eww). When her uncle passes, his secretary Koerner (Paul Panzer), who has a bit of a criminal background, believes he’ll be in line for a healthy pay out. Instead, he leaves all the money in a trust for Pauline, to be overseen by Koerner, until she marries… Harry apparently.
Pauline agrees to take one year to travel the world and seek out adventure, and then return to discuss marriage. Koerner is assigned to watch over her on her travels, which of course puts him in a prime position to try to arrange her death in a variety of interesting and cliff-hanging ways (sometimes literally).
With the help of his criminal ally Hicks (Edward Jose), the two scheme Pauline’s demise, introducing all the classics before they were classics… tying her up and leaving her on the railroad tracks, marooned in a hot air balloon, leaving her to be chopped up into little pieces…
The episodes would tend to end with a cliff-hanger with a message to come back next week to learn Pauline’s fate. Somehow she would always get away, just long enough to get herself into some serious trouble again 20 minutes later.
Pauline is a fairly feisty character, though oftentimes it falls to a male companion to help save her, which is kind of a downside to the story line I personally love strong kickass gals who can get themselves in and out of trouble. Still, she did help lay the groundwork for countless series that came after it, and helped influence countless adventure films that came decades later.
The films are silent, so the acting is all very over-the-top with exaggerated gestures and facial expressions, but there are also some really sweet stunts, which if you think about the lack of safety precautions at the time is pretty mind-boggling. In the first episode, there is someone climbing a line from a hot air balloon next to a rather rocky cliff. It’s a nice looking moment.
Beyond the rather icky marriage proposal the series (what I saw of it) was a lot of fun, and it’s so sad that things like this are lost and forgotten. Serials call back times that I never even lived in, though I would love to have seen them. Course that might have something to do with the fact that I can rock a fedora and a bow tie.
Have you seen any of the classic serials? Pauline? Buck Rogers? Flash Gordon?