Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Pearl White

Best Stunts 1914

Stuntwork is the black sheep of the modern film industry. Not included in the Academy Awards, professional stuntmen and women work in the shadows of the more famous stars and live largely unknown and unnoticed by the public, which nonetheless thrills at their accomplishments. In the early days of the film industry, most actors and actresses did their own stunts – it was expected – although occasionally a double would be found for a particularly challenging shot.

Stuntwork was vital to the slapstick comedies that were so popular before words added verbal comedy to the range of possibilities for the industry. Thus, we have two nominations for the surprisingly agile Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. In “Leading Lizzie Astray,” he plays a physical giant who destroys a wall and takes on a whole team of bad guys, while in “The Knockout” he performs an elaborate series of moves as an aspiring boxer outclassed in the ring by much more able opponents (with no less than Charlie Chaplin as the unfortunate ref). Jack Holt took on the stunt-double’s work for William Pike in “Salomy Jane,” falling down a cliff into a river, and trained acrobat Pierre Couderc gives us flips and falls as “The Patchwork Girl of Oz.” Finally, Pearl White undertook a number of harrowing situations in “The Perils of Pauline.”

The nominees for best stunts for 1914 are:

  1. Perils of Pauline (Pearl White, et. al)
  2. Patchwork Girl of Oz (Pierre Couderc, et. al)
  3. The Knockout (Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, et, al)
  4. Leading Lizzie Astray (Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, et. al)
  5. Salomy Jane (Jack Holt, et. al)

And the winner is… Pearl White and others for “Perils of Pauline!”

 Perils_of_Pauline

Pearl White got my attention in the very first chapter of the serial, when she scaled a rope from a balloon onto a beach, and she never let up in getting herself into and out of trouble in dangerous ways. Although it’s possible a double was used (and that balloon was never quite so far off the ground as it seemed), the stuntwork in this serial is outstanding, and holds up a century later as a remarkable achievement.

Perils of Pauline (1914)

Perils_of_Pauline

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.

You can watch some episodes of this for free: here, here, and here.