PEARL WHITE AND THE EARLY SERIALS
Ever since our first silent serial show (in August, 1955) we've had many
requests for a follow-up - and especially for Pearl White material. Frankly
we've delayed out of the fear that such a show might be a sad let-down, but -
finally - here it is. A word of warning, however, to those of you who
remember the early serials through rose-colored glasses that 40 years have
clouded with nostalgia, and to those of you who have seen but little of them
and regard Pearl White - by reputation - as representing the zenith of those
wonderful days of the chapter plays.
Although Pearl White was a unique personality, her serials themselves were
never really top-grade. Nor were the early serials really notable for speed
and spectacular thrills; mystery was their main forte, and the spectacular
action and daredevil stunts came into their own somewhat later, most notably
in the Pathe serials of the 20's. Finally, relatively few of these early
serials are available to us in anything approximating their original state:
prints are duped several generations, are incomplete, and often missing the
very necessary subtitles.
If you expect a non-stop parade of action from tonight's compilation you may
be disappointed; that just wasn't what the earliest serials offered. But if
you don't set your sights too high, I think you'll find this an enjoyable and
certainly reasonably representative cross-section of those chapter - plays.
For contrast, we have included a few brief excerpts from the faster and more
polished serials of the 20's.
You'll find one or two items in the program not originally announced, and also
one deletion. We have already played two episodes of "What Happened to Mary",
and found that the two remaining to us were of such strictly non-melodramatic
content that they hardly fitted into the context of tonight's program. So, we'l
l be using these in the regular way on a later program. Secondly, although not
originally announced, we did - on our program notes last Tuesday - mention
a "Fantomas" excerpt as being shown tonight. This too proved very tame, and
decidedly not representative of that exciting film. So -- with a long show
anyway, and probably a warm one -- we thought it best not to add length to the
show for no solid reason. The various items squeezed out - including another
"Hazards of Helen" episode - will quite certainly find their way into upcoming
PROGRAM IN ORDER OF SCREENING
THE SERIAL QUEENS (Biograph Television, 1956) One reel;
script & editing: W.K. Everson; narrator: Paul Killiam
This quick roundup of serials from 1914-1929 starts off with excerpts from
"The Hazards of Helen" and "The Perils of Pauline", and then presents highlights
from a number of Pathe and Universal serials with Ruth Roland, Pearl White,
Bill Desmond, William Duncan, Walter Miller, Allen, Ray and others, Directors
represented include Spencer Gordon Bennett, W.S. Van Dyke, J.P. McGowan and
Paul Hurst. The serials: THE SHIELDING SHADOW (1916) THE FATAL RING (1917)
THE TIGER'S TRAIL (1919) WHITE EAGLE (1922) THE FAST EXPRESS (1924) RETURN OF
THE RIDDLE RIDER (1927) MAN WITHOUT A FACE ('27) THE TERRIBLE PEOPLE ('27) and
TIMBER QUEEN (1922).
THE PERILS PAULINE (Eclectic, 1914) Dir: Louis Gasnier; starring Pearl
Whitey Crane Wilbur, Paul Panzer.
Two complete episodes: THE DEADLY TURNING and THE PIRATE'S TREASURE
Notwithstanding the occasional real thrills, the crudity and downright
illiteracy of "The Perils of Pauline" is a never-ending source of amazement.
It was lucky to be the first of its genre; novelty presumably offset other
shortcomings, although at a time when extremely able and polished little films
were being made, acceptance of its slipshod production is still surprising.
Its strangely infantile titles -- and the mis-spelling of words (even when
those words and whole sentences were lifted bodily from the novel) -- really
have to be seen to be believed. Nothing, surely, can ever top that classic
title (included in our first show) when Pearl is told that she is to be s
ubjected to a test to prove her "immoral strength", the supposition being that
she is a Goddess. However, there are some lulus in today's episodes too. Having
criticised it perhaps a little more than it warrants, we'll go on to say that
it remains lively and darned good fun, and the cast look as though they were
enjoying themselves as much as anyone - villain Paul Panzer in particular!
As for Pearl herself, I can't think of any player in 1914 who had more sheer
personality than she did. There were better actresses certainly; girls who
were prettier; but Pearl had that indefinable something "special". For one
thing, she seemed to enjoy everything she did -- and to convey that enjoyment
to the audience. Too, she was a strikingly attractive girl in a healthy,
open-air, big-sister fashion. The prevailing standards of beauty for heroines
at that time demanded a girlish innocence, a little sister appeal. Pearl's
laughing face wasn't the kind to inspire romantic sighs from the boys - but it
wasn't the kind to suggest that she needed kindness and protection either. Pearl
could take care of herself and the boy friend too. As such, she was at least
a generation ahead of her time, and her good looks and bouncing personality
were insufficiently appreciated at the time. Her personality more than made up
for any defficiencies in the serials themselves -- and if her publicity, and
her hoked-up "biography" and the ludicrous press stories that she never used
doubles, all seem more than a little wild today, we should remember that the
art (?) of movie publicity was then much younger even than the movies themselves.
Today's publicity is really no less wild -- and it's a lot less fun!
ZUDORA (Thanhauser, 1914) 20 episodes; written by Donald Goodman, directed
by Frederic Sullivan and Howard Hansell; with James Cruze, Marguerite
Snow, Harry Benham. One reel excerpt.
Mid-way between "The Million Dollar Mystery" and "The 20 Million Dollar Mystery",
"Zudora" was one of the most successful of all the early serials. Since the
opening titles to the film (which include that wonderful old Thanhauser trademark)
give quite a lot of its history, we'll add no further comments here, except to say
that it is obviously a polished and well-made little film, and in its original
form undoubtedly far less confusing than it here appears, minus all but one or
two titles. Knowing the title of the episode - "The Foiled Elopement!" - only
makes it more difficult to figure out!
PLUNDER (Pathe; 15 episodes; 1923) Written by George B. Seitz and Bertram
Millhauser; directed by Seitz; with Pearl White, Warren William,
Pearl's last serial was far from being one of her best, and had a remarkably
tame climax, but this excerpt from episode nine is good lively action stuff,
with Pearl sinking in a quicksand and battling the villains, all in the wilds
of New Jersey!
The Hazards of Helen (Kalem; 1915) Dir: J.P. McGowan; with Helen Gibson. Excerpt.
This climactic excerpt is from the second. "Hazards" series, with Helen Gibson
having taken over from Helen Holmes. It's good, polished, well-edited material.
Gibson was less of an actress than Holmes, more of an athlete.
The Flame Fighter (Rayart; 1925; 10 episodes) Dir: Robert Dillon; with Herbert
Rawlinson, Brenda Lane, Purnell Pratt.
A very brief glimpse of a slightly above average independent serial of the 20's;
Rayart was the forerunner of the present Allied Artists.
King of the Kongo (Mascot; 1929) Dir: Richard Thorpe; with Walter Miller,
Jacqueline Logan, Boris Karloff.
Another brief glimpse: this was Mascot's first sound serial, though also
released in silent form. Boris Karloff can be seen in our few scenes, and
Richard Thorpe seems to have been a much more animated director then than now!
(CHANGE OF REEL: NOT AN INTERMISSION)
PEARL OF THE ARMY (Pathe: 1916) 15 episodes; directed by Edward Jose; written
by G.W. McConnell and George B. Seitz; supervised by Louis
Gasnier; with Pearl White, Ralph Kellard, Theodore
Friebus (Major Brent) W.T. Carleton (Colonel Dare) Marie
Wayne (Bertha Bonn). 5 reels of excerpts.
Although not a particularly outstanding serial, we are presenting some rather
lengthy excerpts from this film because the pictorial quality (from the original
negative) is exceptionally good -- and because Pearl herself never looked
lovelier than in this film. We culled these five reels from almost twice as
much footage; much of the serial is quite turgid, and all of it is baffling,
but of the material available, these are quite certainly the best scenes. Over
the years I have seen a great deal of this serial, including a feature version,
and I have never understood what it is all about. The material tonight has
been very strangely edited so that it makes even less sense; there are misplaced
scenes, jump cuts, and very few titles. I suggest therefore that you make no
attempt to follow it or unravel the mystery of who the "Silent Menace" is --
but just sit back and enjoy it. Some of the titles were added about ten years
ago for a proposed tv release that never came off, and they almost rival the
original "Perils" titles in some respects. At one point a young lady tells us
"I cannot think of marriage, or anything else for that matter!", while at another
great moment, when the re-editing and removal of titles has almost bludgeoned
one into insensibility, the villain comes on to tell his cronies that he "has
everyone hopelessly confused now!" and that "we haven't much more time to go
running around like this". Other gems of 1950 title-writing I'll leave you to
determine for yourself. (We'll be merciful and not name the prominent writer
of titles for foreign movies who created these literary masterpieces!)
While it obviously isn't fair to judge any film by such badly-edited excerpts,
it does seem, even in its original state, to have been unnecessarilly complicated.
Also, there are more than a few evidences of carelessness. The Silent Menace
at one point enters a cabin that is surrounded by snow; when the army follows
him, minutes later, there isn't a trace of it. And when a scene is shot at a
railway station, notice all the passengers gawking out of the window at the
cameraman. Nevertheless, it has all the trimmings -- including that old gimmick
of having a suspect appear where the masked villain had been seconds before -
and some lovely shots in old Fort Lee, atop New Jersey's Palisades, and so on.
Even if you don't know what it's all about, I think you'll find it vastly
TERROR (U.S. Release title: THE PERILS OF PARIS) Anderson Pictures Corpn.,
1924. Scenario: Gerard Bourgeois; continuity: Felix Orman; no
director credited; starring (PEARL WHITE with Robert Lee, Arlette Marchal.
We have been wanting for some time to show TERROR, but never felt quite
justified. It is not a particularly good picture, and the print is one of those
dupes that we try to avoid. Yet, for the right audiences it can be a tremendously
enjoyable picture. If we haven't got that "right" and sympathetic audience
tonight, then we'll never have it - so here is TERROR, or, as it was called in
the U.S., THE PERILS OF PARIS.
It was Pearl's last film - made the year after PLUNDER, and also after a string
of straight, non-serial melodramas for Fox. Pearl made it in Paris, but apparently
somewhat reluctantly, At the time, she commented:
"I will tell you that this "Terror" is the last picture in which I am going to
work. I want to direct, but I was talked into playing it. I wrote the story.
But I think this business of being the whole show is a bad idea. You lose your
perspective. After this I'm going to direct stories other people have written.
"Terror" is a stunt picture. It's fast. The first picture to be made in the
American style by an American company in Paris. I guess it's the first picture
ever made right in the traffic there, and it is really the first time the famous
sewers of Paris ever have been photographed. We took lights down there and got
some great stuff".
Disregarding Pearl's claims for "firsts", one gets the impression - both from
her comments, from the lack of an officially designated director - and from the
picture itself - that Pearl handled at least some of the direction herself. If
so it may explain why she never directed again, because while the direction
isn't exactly bad, it is jerky, uneven and generally confused. One seldom
knows just who is who, or what the motivations are. Luckily however there's
enough excitement to keep it going, and a grand climax with fights and chases
over the roof-tops and through the sewers.
Pearl herself handled the U.S. sale of the pictures, and unfortunately didn't
work out a particularly good deal; a small company handled it, and distribution
was but limited.
Our print by the way is one of those annoying dupes that is obviously made from
a really good original 35mm prints but has been spoiled by shoddy lab work.
However, Pearl White material - like certain Chaplins - is so rare that the
really good print is the sad exception rather than the rule.
: : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : :Wm. K. Everson: : : : : : : : : : : : : :
Tonight's program will be introduced by Mr. Allan Brock, a prominent actors'
agent in the 20's and 30's, and a friend of both Pearl White and Ruth Roland.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Next program: Tuesday next, room 10-C
Program One in the Horror Cycle: THE OLD SCHOOL:
Paul Leni's THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1927) Laura La Plante, Creighton Hale
Victor Halperin's WHITE ZOMBIE (1933) Bela Lugosi, Johnny Harron
Program Notes & Enquiries: W.K. Everson, Hotel Bradford, 210 W. 70th St., NYC 23
Committee: Edward Gorey, Sandra Everson, Charles Shibuk, Dorothy Lovell. *************************************************************************