The Perils Of Pauline (1914)
Genre: Silent Action Adventure Serial
Starring: Pearl White (The Exploits of Elaine), Crane Wilbur
Directed By: Louis J. Gasnier (Reefer Madness), Donald MacKenzie
Overview: Pauline's wealthy uncle leaves her his fortune, to be claimed once she marries. Still young, she seeks adventure before wedlock. Each episode, her guardian does what he can to have her killed so he can claim the money. It's up to Pauline and Harry, her fiancée, to help one another make it through the day alive.
Acting: Both of the main characters mostly earned from teleplay shorts, so their list of films is long, but not so illustrious. Poor Pearl White turned into a drunk due to all the injuries she sustained from doing her own stunts. There are some shortcomings, since its hard gauging the actors' abilities because of the camera work and the film quality. Never did we see up-close reactions, so we were reduced to watching grand gestures of pantomime. Pantomime in this fashion, not used for slapstick but for the sake of conveying understanding of a scene, it's not all that cool. A sign of poor direction, really.
Cinematography: Here we have these tremendous stunts that got a woman constantly injured, and we miss the gripping action of it all because the camera is fifty feet away. Go on about the technological limitations of 1914 but this print was muddy, the camerawork was a constant wide-shot, and the screenshots you have in this post are indeed the same quality as any of the three hours of this serial. There is nothing more perfect to describe the problem with old silent movies than this film. Thank God there were costumes and stunts.
Script: Remember those movies where the words on the screen stay up for too long, and you wait and wait and wonder why people think you're illiterate? This is worse. The intertitles sometimes had letters chopped off, they were a dark grey on a black background, and they went by so fast that I was constantly holding the DVD remote to pause it. Some had a random number in the corner. As for scriptwriting skill? Please. No poetry whatsoever. At least it managed to explain itself.
Plot: Halfway through, the girlfriend turns to me and asks, "So why haven't they figured out that someone's trying to kill her once a week?" This is the biggest problem with this series. The suspension of disbelief is too great as there is never ANY attempt made at catching the Gypsies (always with the Gypsies, what is up with that?) or the pirates or the whoever that bad guy Koerner hires to kill her. She's rescued and the same thing happens next episode. Even ending an episode with the question "Who could want me dead?" would at least hint that there was some thought put into continuity.
Mood: The best episode is the first one, with the drama of uncle's death, the treacherous balloon ride, a daring rescue from a raging fire and the whole 'save-the-day' mood of it all. I was expecting far more sinister themes, more exaggerated evil in the bad guy, better ploys than 'you kidnap her and put her in a place' or 'have the pirate tell her there's treasure'. I'm glad half the episodes were lost forever, this is in no way the great action serial I expected it to be. Completely disappointing, and a couple episodes didn't even have a peril!
You know, couples who wear the same clothes... they deserve what's comin' to 'em.
Overall Rating: 28% (The Perils of Bad Entertainment, Ugh.)
Aftertaste: The sad case of the mythology forcing me to scour the globe (in this case Ebay) to find something I've only heard was popular back in the day and was about a woman getting in these crazy situations. Here's the thing though. I had to see it to know that it was terrible.
This is what sucks about not being able to see in the future. Damned future!