Tag Archives: Pearl White

The Perils of Pauline (1914, Louis J. Gasnier and Donald MacKenzie), the European version

What remains of The Perils of Pauline is not The Perils of Pauline. This European version is a condensation of the actual serial. The nine chapter European version is about half the original length of the serial. And it’s also not a good translation. English to French to English again. So the European version of Perils of Pauline is not an accurate representation of the original serial. At least, I really hope it’s not.

Because The Perils of Pauline is a major disappointment. And once it’s not being disappointing anymore, it’s just being tedious. Because every chapter is basically the same. Pearl White is the title character. The perils in the title refer to her guardian’s attempts to kill her. He wants her money. So he tries to kill her again and again, hiring people to do it, trying to do it himself. Sometimes there are a couple attempts on White’s life in a chapter. Whoever shrunk the original Pauline down packs in the set pieces.

Then their Panzer’s plan is a flop or Crane Wilbur comes to rescue White. He’s her cousin and fiancé. His father was White’s previous guardian. Panzer was the father’s secretary, a ex-con looking to go straight and get rewarded for his effort. The first chapter sets it all up and there are no reminders of it later. Apparently the condesors chopped out all the character arcs; if there were any.

The first chapter has Wilbur’s father, played by Edward José, dying. He’s just made a deal with White–she can have a year to have adventures, then settle down and marry Wilbur. Once that bit of narrative necessity is done, José dies. One of his last wishes is for White to get her year of adventure. Sounds like a really cool setup for a serial.

Except White’s idea of adventure is kind of bland. The first chapter has this great hot air balloon escape sequence. White has to save herself. Then she gets scared of heights and has to wait for Wilbur. There aren’t any cliffhangers in Perils of Pauline. There are thrills, but every chapter has White safely in Wilbur’s waiting arms. Sometimes there’s funny stuff with Panzer freaking out to see his latest attempt has failed, but there’s acknowlegment of his behavior from White and Wilbur. Everything White does for a year goes wrong–she’s kidnapped, she’s shot at, she’s almost drown, the Navy shoots at her–all the bad stuff. All the perils.

She and Wilbur never suspect Panzer. They never acknowledge White’s been in danger before. The second chapter starts with White getting out of town because of her new fame–after surviving the hot air balloon incident, which also had her almost burning alive. That acknowledgment is it until the last chapter. And then it’s only because the serial’s over. Again, no idea if it’s the condensed version or the way Perils really played.

Most of the chapters have White wanting to do something, Panzer encouraging her because he wants to kill her in a fantastic way (and usually one where her body would never be found and therefor not declared dead), Wilbur objecting because why doesn’t White just want to settle down and marry him. He’s wonderful. He always rescues her.

And Perils even acknowledges it–Panzer and frequent henchman Francis Carlyle–plot to get Wilbur out of the way in at least one chapter. Carlyle starts the serial as a recently out of prison acquantiance of Panzer’s coming to shake him down since Panzer’s working for these millionaires. Panzer’s reluctant in the first chapter, then he’s full villain, compulsively plotting. Plotting poorly, yes, but plotting nonetheless.

White wants to do something, Wilbur says no, Panzer says she should, White ignores Wilbur’s advice, gets in trouble, Wilbur saves her, Panzer freaks, the end. Four or five of the chapters are that sequence of events. Except it sounds like White is doing things in Perils. And she rarely does anything. She usually just waits around for Wilbur to save her. White never acknowledges her propensity for danger either, much less Wilbur’s many times rescuing her.

She also talks about wanting to get married. But Wilbur and White don’t really have any chemistry. After the first episode, all their interactions are arguments or action rescues. Those moments aren’t magnificent holdovers from the original serial. They’re tedious sequences where Wilbur and White have the same discussion over and over. Panzer and Carlyle are the ones who get to have fun, not Wilbur, not White.

While sometimes Panzer’s plots are stupid, they’re always full of spectacle. Until the last chapter, then his attempts are pedestrian and the spectacle is coincidence. The last chapter has a lot of other problems, but Perils does Panzer wrong. Panzer’s a good villain. He’s a lot better when he’s not conflicted, just scheming. And he has some amazing freakouts. One chapter has him seeing White alive, screaming and running around. Wilbur and White just look at each other and smile. The staff are so wacky.

There’s are a lot of clues, watching Perils of Pauline’s nine chapter version, about the original serial. Most of the time, you’re giving Perils’s directors and writers the benefit of the doubt. But not when White all of a sudden starts being helpless around the staff. Maybe she’s always a jerk to the staff, maybe it’s in the full version. Or maybe it’s just the one time thing. Maybe it isn’t missing anything.

As is, The Perils of Pauline is a disappointing, deliberate mess. Chaos would be preferrable. Some narrative imagination in the condensation cutting, which doesn’t seem a likely–or even desired–quality in whoever’s doing the editing.

The serial’s got adequate direction from Gasnier and MacKenzie. Basic setups but good composition. The action sequences with stunts, the special effects stuff, usually pretty solid. When it wants to impress visually, Perils can and does. The thrilling set pieces are cool and well-executed.

White’s fine. Perils–at least this version of it–gives her very little to do. Panzer’s fine with sometimes better moments. Wilbur’s never fine and never has any good moments. Director MacKenzie also pops up in front of the camera; he plays a vulgar sailor who Panzer hires to con White. The character’s a lot of fun, as opposed to when Perils brings in the devious gypsy band (in blackface). They’re not fun. Most of the other performances are fine. Including some of the unfortunately uncredited ones.

At the end, Perils wraps things up with a lackluster final chapter. You could watch the first and last chapters and get the same story. And you’d be just as disappointed by the finale, it’s so lacking in thrills.

Maybe–and, really, hopefully–the real Perils of Pauline was good. But this condensed version isn’t.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Louis J. Gasnier and Donald MacKenzie; screenplay by Charles W. Goddard and Basil Dickey, based on the novel by Goddard; director of photography, Arthur C. Miller; released by the Eclectic Film Company.

Starring Pearl White (Pauline), Crane Wilbur (Harry), Paul Panzer (Koerner), Francis Carlyle (Hicks), Clifford Bruce (Gypsy leader), Donald MacKenzie (Blinky Bill, the pirate), Jack Standing (Lt. Summers), and Edward José (Sanford Marvin).


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The Perils of Pauline (1914, Louis J. Gasnier and Donald MacKenzie), the European version, Chapter 9: The Floating Coffin

The Floating Coffin starts as most Perils of Pauline chapters start. Villain Paul Panzer is loitering around lovebirds Pearl White and Crane Wilbur, trying to figure out a way to off White. This time they’re yachting and White wants to go off on her own in a motorboat. Unlike every other chapter of Pauline, she asks Wilbur for his permission. Maybe because it’s his motorboat? White also has a dog. She’s never had a dog before.

Panzer sees his chance and opens the drain on the boat, filling it with a towel. Somehow the motorboat doesn’t sink overnight, and indeed lasts a whole hour into White’s solo voyage. As she begins taking on water, she goes to the nearest refuge–what turns out to be a floating target platform for the Navy.

Once White’s on the platform, Coffin just starts piling on logic hole after logic hole. First she can’t see the ships shooting at the target, even though they haven’t moved. She just wasn’t looking in the right spot. Also, on board the firing vessels, someone’s watching the target with binoculars. They apparently can see the target platform but not White (and her dog). Until a little later, when they can. Basically everyone’s incompetent.

Except the yacht captain, who figures out–after ten plus attempts–it’s Panzer who’s causing all of White’s Perils. An exceptionally lackluster finish to the serial ensues.

Even though White doesn’t do much except watch the water rise, the interiors on the platform as it fills with seawater are cool. The dog seems to be having a good time.

It’s also not clear how White knows she’s on a target platform (to send a distress message) after getting on the platform and apparently having no idea what it’s doing on the water.

White does probably get the most to do since the first chapter, but none of it’s special. In fact, it’s less special than almost every other thing she’s done–with far less screen time–in the rest of the serial.

CREDITS

Directed by Louis J. Gasnier and Donald MacKenzie; screenplay by Charles W. Goddard and Basil Dickey, based on the novel by Goddard; director of photography, Arthur C. Miller; released by the Eclectic Film Company.

Starring Pearl White (Pauline), Crane Wilbur (Harry), and Paul Panzer (Koerner).


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The Perils of Pauline (1914, Louis J. Gasnier and Donald MacKenzie), the European version, Chapter 8: The Serpent in the Flowers

The Serpent in the Flowers only refers to one of the many things in this penultimate chapter of The Perils of Pauline. It comes towards the middle, after Paul Panzer has hired gypsy Clifford Bruce to again do away with Pearl White. Panzer senses he’s running out of time to kill White (according to the intertitle). It’s unclear why he’s running out of time, as the chapters have lacked any continuity since the second one.

Anyway, he hires the gypsy band to kill her. Only they kidnap her and then don’t kill her, making Bruce’s girlfriend jealous. Bruce is keeping White in his own tent for some reason. White tries to escape, as she’s not bound and the gypsy camp is within walking distance of home, but they catch her. So she stops trying. Of course she does.

Bruce’s girlfriend comes across Crane Wilbur, who’s out looking for White, and leads him to her. In the rescue attempt, Bruce is somehow wounded–Wilbur’s throwing bottles of beer at him and missing over and over; one must connect off-screen.

To get revenge, Bruce’s girlfriend puts a snake in some flowers and delivers it to White’s estate. Except Wilbur saves her.

The chapter doesn’t end with that second attempt on White’s life (the first one separate from Panzer, something Serpent sadly doesn’t dwell on), instead it continues with White participating in a horse race and Panzer poisoning her horse.

The shots of Panzer and Wilbur watching the race are pretty neat. Wilbur doesn’t want to White to participate because he never wants her to do anything but marry him and he’s anxious. Panzer’s anxious for the horse to go down and crush White.

It’s a long chapter, with way too much story, way too little suspense. That final amusement helps a lot. Especially since the adorable trained bear cub is only in two shots at the gypsy camp.

CREDITS

Directed by Louis J. Gasnier and Donald MacKenzie; screenplay by Charles W. Goddard and Basil Dickey, based on the novel by Goddard; director of photography, Arthur C. Miller; released by the Eclectic Film Company.

Starring Pearl White (Pauline), Crane Wilbur (Harry), Paul Panzer (Koerner), and Clifford Bruce (Gypsy leader).


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The Perils of Pauline (1914, Louis J. Gasnier and Donald MacKenzie), the European version, Chapter 7: The Tragic Plunge

This chapter involves the world of international espionage, with leads Pearl White, Crane Wilbur, and Paul Panzer meeting a submarine designer (Jack Standing) who offers White a tour of his latest boat. Conveniently, Standing’s (unfortunately uncredited) fiancée is a foreign agent out to steal his latest plans.

While at dinner, she and Panzer get seated next to each other and she likes the cut of his jib. Apparently spy masters can sniff out incapable attempted murderers.

So Panzer hires the woman to kill White, which involves Standing’s valet planting a bomb on the submarine. It’s not a great bomb, incidentally, it doesn’t even have enough oompf to get through the hull. But it is enough to incapacitate the boat while submerged.

White and Standing are trapped on the ocean floor, running out of air, while Wilbur’s up top on another boat, waiting for them. Panzer disappears, which sadly means no shocked reaction when White doesn’t get killed (again).

No spoilers but there’s one of Pauline’s biggest logic holes in The Tragic Plunge. Someone is able to escape through the submarine tube while everyone else just stays onboard after they escape, running out of air. It’s bewildering.

The submarine interiors are cool (if unlikely–it’s a three-story submarine) and the exteriors of the ocean floor are well-done.

One thing about Plunge is how much more White gets to do. Without Wilbur cloying or Panzer scheming, she’s only sharing screen time with the foreign agents. Eventually, of course, Wilbur shows up to swipe her agency, but for a good while, it feels like Perils is White’s show.

Serial. Whatever.

CREDITS

Directed by Louis J. Gasnier and Donald MacKenzie; screenplay by Charles W. Goddard and Basil Dickey, based on the novel by Goddard; director of photography, Arthur C. Miller; released by the Eclectic Film Company.

Starring Pearl White (Pauline), Crane Wilbur (Harry), Paul Panzer (Koerner), and Jack Standing (Lt. Summers).


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