Widely considered to be one of the first female stunt performers by flying airplanes, racing cars, swimming across rivers, and doing other similar feats, White made five successful serials that were much alike. She did much of her own stunt work and she suffered injuries that would force her to use a stunt double in her later films. The Perils of Pauline would be her most notable work.
The Perils of Pauline, directed by Louis J. Gasnier for the Eclectic Film Company was a 20-part action adventure serial. A complete copy of the original 20 chapters is not known to exist in any film archive, and the one version that is available on Dvd is an edited down and rearranged French release that has been re-translated back to English. If you’re interested you can find it by clicking here (The Perils of Pauline).
The premise of the story was that Pauline’s wealthy guardian Mr. Marvin, upon his death, has left her inheritance in the care of his secretary, Mr. Koerner (Raymond Owen in the original English version), until the time of her marriage. Pauline wants to wait a while before marrying, as her dream is to go out and have adventures to prepare herself for becoming an author. Mr. Koerner, hoping to ultimately keep the money for himself, tries to turn Pauline’s various adventures against her and have her “disappear” to his own advantage.
Interesting enough, the term, “cliffhanger” originated with this series because of the practice of leaving Pauline in each chapter in a precarious position. Pearl White performed her own stunts for the serial. Considerable risk was involved. In one incident a balloon carrying White escaped and carried her across the Hudson River into a storm before landing miles away. In another incident her back was permanently injured in a fall.
One of the more famous scenes in the serial was filmed on the curved Ingham Run trestle in New Hope, Pennsylvania on the Reading Company’s New Hope Branch (now the New Hope and Ivyland Railroad line). The trestle still stands, just off Ferry Street, and is now referred to as “Pauline’s Trestle”. The railroad is a tourist attraction and offers rides from New Hope to Lahaska, Pennsylvania, crossing over the original trestle.
Things to look up (go to IMDB):
Glossary of film terms as defined by Wikipedia:
- Cliffhanger – A cliffhangeror cliffhanger endingis a plot device in fiction which features a main character in a precarious or difficult dilemma, or confronted with a shocking revelation at the end of an episode of serialized fiction. A cliffhanger is hoped to ensure the audience will return to see how the characters resolve the dilemma.
- Serial – Serials, more specifically known as Movie serials, Film serialsor Chapter plays, are short subjectsoriginally shown in theaters in conjunction with a feature film. They were related to pulp magazine serialized fiction. Also known as “chapter plays”, they were extended motion pictures broken into a number of segments called “chapters” or “episodes”. Each chapter was screened at the same theater for one week, and ended with a cliffhanger, in which the hero and heroine found themselves in a perilous situation with little apparent chance of escape. Viewers had to return each week to see the cliffhangers resolved and to follow the continuing story. Serials were especially popular with children, and for many youths in the first half of the 20th century a typical Saturday at the movies included a chapter of at least one serial, along with animated cartoons, newsreels, and two feature films.
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