Perils of Pauline (1914)
Directed by: Louis J. Gasnier & Donald MacKenzie
Starring: Pearl White
This early silent serial originated many of the familiar clichés of the later era – including the young woman who is frequently tied up and rescued, the heroic yet oblivious young man who allows her to get into perilous situations in the first place, and the diabolical masked villain who is actually close to the protagonist in ordinary life. Oh, and cliff-hangers. Lots of cliff-hangers. Pauline (portrayed by Pearl White, who had already done a series of “Pearl” movies and would later star in “The Exploits of Elaine”) is a young heiress, betrothed to the son of her former guardian, who wants a “life of adventure” before she settles down. Her hero is the hapless Harry (Crane Wilbur, who later wrote horror classics like “The Bat” and “House of Wax”), who never manages to be around when she gets into trouble, but always has to arrive in the nick of time to get her out of it. The villain is the heavy-set Paul Panzer (whose career went on for decades, allowing him to appear in the 1947 remake, as well as “Mildred Pierce” and “Casablanca” in small roles), who is Harry’s father’s executor, and who hopes to pay off his gambling debts with Pauline’s inheritance, which reverts to him if she should die by some “misfortune” previous to her wedding day. Perils from which Pauline is either rescued from or rescues herself include a burning house, a runaway balloon, a blocked-in cave, a band of savage Indians, a ticking bomb, drowning at sea, drowning in a cellar, a sabotaged biplane, a sabotaged submarine, a poisonous snake, and various gangs of ruffians (especially gypsies).
Run Time: Reputed to have been 20 episodes originally, today only 9 exist.