Sunday, August 17, 2014

Silent Sundays: The Perils of Pauline: Chapter One (1914)

Imagine going to movie theaters in the early 1900s when movies were still new. Every story idea was fresh, every idea and camera angle were new and inventive. They were a great adventure, a great romance, a great comedy. They were all still innocent and sweet and exciting. There are so many films that make me wish I could go back in time and see them in the theaters. One series of films I would like to travel back in time and see is the very first chapter of The Perils of Pauline that was first released in 1914.
            Pauline Marvin (Pearl White) has been left in the care of an older man named Sanford after her father died.  Pauline is set to inherit a large fortune but while she waits for her inheritance Sanford looks after her money.
            Sanford has a young son named Harry. Harry is madly in love with Pauline but she is in no rush to get married. She wants to live her life and travel the world.
            The old man has a secretary named Koerner. One day Koerner is approached by a man he used to run around with. The man wants money from Koerner or else he will tell Sanford that Koerner was once in jail and escaped. He tells the man to wait that Sanford will likely die soon and leave him something.
            Sanford does eventually die. He places Koerner in charge of Pauline’s money. The secretary relays this information to the man he knows. The man comes up with a plan to have Pauline go up in a hot air balloon at Pallisades Park and fly away. The man bribes a few people at the park to put his plan of killing Pauline into motion.
            Pauline is thrilled to be going up in the hot air balloon. Of course her ride does not go over as she had hoped. When the rope to the air balloon is cut Pauline finds herself sailing over the Palisades cliffs. In a smart move she climbs down the rope and lands on the cliff side.
            Harry and Koerner had been following Pauline. Harry gets to Pauline first and attempts to pull her up by tying the rope to his car. He climbs down to get her. When he gets to her to rope falls. Koerner and the man have cut the rope. Pauline comes up with the idea to inflate the balloon again and fly back up. Koerner comes down. He knocks Harry down and carries away Pauline. Koerner takes her to an abandoned house. He has Pauline tied up, places her on the floor, and sets the room on fire.
            Luckily Harry arrives before the house can burn down and saves Pauline. Back at the house Koerner calls the police to report Pauline missing thinking she is dead. Pauline comes walking into the house with Harry. They are both a bit shaken but they will alright.
            The last few seconds literally end with a question mark since Koerner walks away with the other man. The last title card tells the audience to come back the following week to see another chapter of Pauline’s story.
            I had first heard about the Perils of Pauline through the Betty Hutton film of the same title. That film is good especially because Betty Hutton is hilarious and her Rumble, Rumble, Rumble number is one of my all time favorite musical numbers in a film ever but it barely has anything to do with the real story of the film series or Pearl White. Ever since that time I have been interested in seeing the original Perils.
Fire was put under my behind to watch the series after I began interning at the Fort Lee Museum in Fort Lee, NJ. For those of you who might not be aware Fort Lee was where the motion picture industry really took off. The motion pictures studios in New York would send their troupes over the Hudson River to film outdoor scenes. Soon studios such as Goldwyn, Selznick, World, Solax, Universal, and Éclair built studios in the town. Many films from the various studios filmed along the Palisades Cliffs. At the museum I have seen and handled several photographs and pieces of memorabilia from The Perils of Pauline and also those pertaining to Pearl White. Every few years the museum shows one of the chapters from the series along the cliff side of the Palisades where White filmed many of her famous scenes. The museum even uses a famous photograph of White, camera man Arthur Miller, director George Seitz, and Antonio Moreno on their business cards and other professional signs and posters to advertise. The Perils of Pauline hold a special place in the heart of the local cinephiles in Fort Lee with its view of the Palisades but I believe they take more pride in that Palisades Amusement Park is featured (PAP, even though it closed down, is a huge part of the area’s history).

I greatly enjoyed watching the first chapter of The Perils of Pauline. It was cute and I must say it was even exciting. It is definitely a film and a series I would have liked seeing had I been alive one hundred years ago. Pauline Marvin would have been my hero and someone I admired. 
If you live in New Jersey or would like to take a trip to see some silent film memorabilia please come by The Fort Lee Museum. Also, please visit the Fort LeeFilm Commission’s website for more information on the early film industry. 

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