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When orphan Pauline's (Pearl White) guardian Marvin dies, he leaves his
vast fortune in equal shares to her and his son Harry (Crane Wilbur) ...
which is just as well, as the two are in love anyway, and Harry would do
nothing rather than marry Pauline right there on the spot.
But Pauline has other plans, she wants to live a life of adventure, at
least for one year ... which plays right into the hands of her new
guardian Koerner (Paul Panzer), Marvin's secretary, as he figures if she
doesn't survive to be 21, he will inherit Marvin's large fortune. So he
and his henchman Hicks (Francis Carlyle) try to get her into dangerous
situations and kill her in the process numerous times: they let her fly
off in a balloon on her own then let it drop into a canyon, they have her
abducted and left all tied up in a burning house, they leave her to die in
a fox hole, they have her captured by the Sioux, they take her on a boat
trip and blow up the boat, they have her take part in a car race, and they
have her kidnapped by gypsies and yet again left in a a room that is to be
flooded. But somehow, often (but not always) with the help of Harry, Pauline
survives all her ordeals ...
Later Pauline is to participate in a plane race, and Koerner has her
plane sabotaged. But Harry, who feels unease about Pauline going up in the
air (after all it was only 1914, and planes were still terribly new), does
everything to make her miss her flight, even sabotages his own car, and so
eventually the plane crashes ... without Pauline on it. Then Koerner has
her go on a trip with Captain Summer's (Jack Standing) new untested
submarine, and he plans to use foreign spies who want to blow up the sub
for his own ends. but that goes wrong when Pauline, once the submarine is
grounded, escapes through the missile hatch and not only gets help just in
time, but also she and Harry manage to round up the spies.
Next, Koerner has Pauline kidnapped once more by gypsies, but the wife
of the gypsy leader gets so jealous that she gets Harry to save Pauline.
When Harry beats up the gypsy leader but good though, his wife vows
revenge and tries to smuggle a poisonous snake into Pauline's household
... to no success of course.
Then Pauline takes part in a horserace, but Koerner fixes it that her
horse has an accident ... but luckily she survives.
Koerner's time to get his hands on Pauline's money is almost over, when
Harry and Pauline go on a yachting trip and Pauline wants to do a little
excursion on her own in a rowboat ... and of course Koerner fixes it that
the rowboat sinks. Somehow Pauline can save herself onto a crewless boat
passing by though ... which unluckily the Navy uses for target practicing,
and soon enough that boat sinks too. Thank god Pauline has her dog with
her whom she sends swimming over to the battleboat to send help, and so
she is once again saved, and now decides she has had enough adventures for
one lifetime and will happily marry Harry ...
And Koerner ? Some sailor on Harry's yacht has realized him for the
scoundrel that he is and thrown him overboard ...
One thing up front: The story of Perils of Pauline is terribly
silly, even for its time, and the resolution of the plot, with the sailor
throwing Koerner over board just like that does leave a lot te be desired
... but as mindless but good-natured entertainment, Perils of Pauline
is nothing short of great. Pearl White's humourous yet daring attitude and
her love for adventure are infectuous, and the film is fast enough paced
to keep even today's jaded audiences (of 90+ years later) entertained, and
a constant change of situation, scenery and indeed genre (from Western to
high seas/submarine adventure to aerial action to the racetrack and so on)
do keep the proceedings from ever getting boring. And considering that in
1914, the American movie serial was only 2 years old and production of
serials was far from routine, that's a by no means easy feat.
Unfortunately, the serial did not survive the many years since its
premiere in its entirety, the original 20-episode print has long been
lost, and only a recut (European) version consisting of 9 episodes (with
some of these episodes being made up of more than one original episode)
does seem to exist today. Still, this version packs a lot of punch, and if
you are at all into (silent) serials, this is one not to miss !!!