The Perils of Pauline (1914 serial)

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This article is about The Perils of Pauline (1914 serial) - for other uses see The Perils of Pauline

The Perils of Pauline (1914)

Directed by Louis J. Gasnier
Donald MacKenzie
Written by Charles W. Goddard
George B. Seitz
Cinematography Arthur C. Miller
Distributed by General Film Company & Eclectic Film Company
Released 31 March 1914
Runtime 20 chapters
Country USA Flag of USA.png
Followed by The Exploits of Elaine

The Perils of Pauline is a motion picture serial shown in weekly installments featuring Pearl White as the title character. Pauline has often been cited as a famous example of a damsel in distress, although some analyses hold that her character was more resourceful and less helpless than the classic damsel stereotype.

She is menaced by assorted villains, including pirates and Native Americans. Neither Pauline nor its successor, The Exploits of Elaine, used the so-called "cliffhanger" format in which a serial episode ends with an unresolved danger that is addressed at the beginning of the next installment. Although each episode placed Pauline in a situation that looked sure to result in her imminent death, the end of each installment showed how she was rescued or otherwise escaped the danger.

The serial had 20 episodes, the first being three reels and the rest two reels each. After the original run, it was reshown in theaters a number of times, sometimes in edited, shortened versions, through the 1920s. Today, The Perils of Pauline is known to exist only in a shortened 9-reel version released in Europe in 1916.

In 2008, The Perils of Pauline was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".


The premise of the story was that Pauline's wealthy guardian Mr. Marvin, upon his death, has left her inheritance in the care of his secretary Mr. Koerner until the time of her marriage. Pauline wants to wait a while before marrying, as her dream is to go out and have adventures to prepare herself for becoming an author. Mr. Koerner, hoping to ultimately keep the money for himself, tries to turn Pauline's various adventures against her and have her "disappear" to his own advantage.

Behind the scenes

E.A. McManus of the Hearst Chain was the person who proved how successful a serial could be. He co-operated with Pathé to produce this serial, which was Pathé's first entry into the medium.

William Randolph Hearst was involved in plot development. He was also present at the premiere at Loew's Broadway Theatre on 23rd March 1914. The general release was approximately on 1st April 1914. The premiere date is given in "The Truth About Pearl White" by Wallace E. Davis. George W. Seitz tried to follow the cliffhanging pattern of Adventures of Kathlyn but each chapter was mostly self contained.

Pearl White performed her own stunts for the serial. Considerable risk was involved. In one incident a balloon carrying White escaped and carried her across New York City into a storm before landing miles away. In another incident her back was permanently injured in a fall.

Surviving chapters of Pauline are noteworthy for their unintentionally funny title cards and dialogue captions, filled with misspellings, poor punctuation, terrible grammar, and odd expressions. Pathé, the theatrical distributor, exported the film to France, where it was recut and adapted for home-movie use. All of the printed captions were translated into French. Later, when the significance of the serial was realised and the American home-movie industry beckoned, the original English titles had been scrapped, so the French technicians tried to translate the titles back into English. These errors have also been blamed on Louis J. Gasnier, director and supervisor of the production. Gasnier, as explained by Crane Wilbur, made linguistic mistakes that confused the French-speaking crew. In either case, current prints of The Perils of Pauline contain these badly re-translated title cards. Thus, in "The Pirate's Treasure" Pauline detects a time-bomb and says, "What is that tic-tac I can hear." In the same episode she spies one of the quaint locals and observes, "Here is an original old man."

The term "cliffhanger" may have originated with the series, owing to a number of episodes filmed on or around the New Jersey Palisades. One of the more famous scenes in the serial was filmed on the curved Ingham Run trestle in New Hope, Pennsylvania on the Reading Company's New Hope Branch (now the New Hope and Ivyland Railroad line). The trestle still stands, just off Ferry Street, and is now referred to as "Pauline's Trestle". The railroad is a tourist attraction and offers rides from New Hope to Lahaska, Pennsylvania, crossing over the original trestle.

Milton Berle (b.1908) claimed The Perils of Pauline as his first film appearance, playing the character of a young boy, though this has never been independently verified. The serial did mark one of the early credits for the cinematographer Arthur C. Miller, who was transferred to the project from the Pathé News department.

Pathé, the France-based company that during the first part of the 20th century was the largest film equipment and production company in the world, established an American factory and studio facility in Jersey City, New Jersey in 1910 and also established the Eclectic Film Company as a subsidiary distribution company for both its American and European product. Although the Jersey City plant produced moderately popular comedies, dramas, and newsreels largely directed at the US market, Pauline was the first American-made Pathé effort to achieve worldwide success under the Eclectic banner.

The final peril has Pauline sitting in a target boat as the Navy opens fire. The idea was also used in To the Shores of Tripoli (1942, Fox).


The Perils of Pauline was an "Excellent serial" according to the Motion Picture Herald.

Sequels and remake

This successful serial was quickly followed by The Exploits of Elaine, also starring White. Many imitations and parodies followed, heralding the first golden age of the American film serial.

The title The Perils of Pauline was reused by Universal Studios for a 1933 sound serial with a different plot and an updated 1967 comedy.


Terrytoons produced a Mighty Mouse animated short entitled The Perils of Pearl Pureheart. References to Perils appear in 1960s animated cartoon television shows Dudley Do-Right and The Perils of Penelope Pitstop.


  • Pearl White as Pauline. Pearl White was dubious of the idea but signed up for $250/week and lots of publicity. * Crane Wilbur as Harry Marvin
  • Paul Panzer as Koerner / Raymond Owen
  • Edward José as Sanford Marvin
  • Francis Carlyle as Owen's Henchman, Hicks
  • Clifford Bruce as Gypsy Leader
  • Donald MacKenzie as Blinky Bill
  • Jack Standing as Ensign Summers
  • Eleanor Woodruff as Lucille

See also

External links


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