Saturday, July 2, 2011


In the early days of cinema, adventure was mostly represented in the serials. The first hit among these was The Perils of Pauline from Pathe Studios in 1914. Filmed when the industry was still in New Jersey, these weekly episodes starred Pearl White who did her own stunts until injuries forced her to start using doubles later in her career.

A dance hall singer in Cuba and around South America, White's movie career began when her voice started to give out and she made several serials, the Pauline series being the most famous. Though her well-known character is the model in many people's minds for the 'damsel in distress', Pauline is actually not so helpless and is more resourceful than assumed. You might consider her a model for the great adventure heroines to come like Marion Ravenwood and the like.

Interestingly, not a single episode of Pauline ever used a cliffhanger device, instead showing the resolution to her peril by the end of each installment. The plot of the series was that Pauline's wealthy guardian left her inheritance in the care of his secretary until she marries. Pauline isn't in a hurry to marry as her dream to become an author takes priority, thus she goes on adventures to prepare herself. The secretary, hoping to ultimately keep the money for himself, conspires to do away with Pauline in the course of her exploits.

Among those adventures, she encounters pirates and Indians and finds herself on a Navy target boat. In other episodes, Pauline encounters time bombs, being in peril on a train trestle, and a hot air balloon stunt over the Hudson River drew actress White into a storm and she was injured when it came down. There were twenty episodes in all of this classic serial and it inspired a 1947 movie about Pearl White starring Betty Hutton, from which much impression of the original series comes.

If you're a fan of silent era cinema, find a copy of this serial and give it a viewing. Though The Perils of Pauline is not exactly typical of the classic adventure to follow, it certainly was among the early examples of what would come to make the adventure genre so enjoyable.

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