The Perils of Pauline (1967)


USA. 1967.


Directors – Herbert B. Leonard & Joshua Shelley, Screenplay – Albert Beich, Producer – Herbert B. Leonard, Photography – Jack A. Marta, Music – Vic Mizzy, Art Direction – Alexander Golitzen & John T. McCormick. Production Company – Universal


Pamela Austin (Pauline), Pat Boone (George Steadman), Terry-Thomas (Sten Martin), Edward Everett Horton (Caspar Colman), Kurt Kasznar (Russian Colonel), Hamilton Camp (Thorne), Rick Natoli (Prince Benji)


A young baby Pauline is left on the doorstep of the Baskerville Foundling Home and is taken in and duly raised. George Steadman, a boy her own age, falls in love with her and foils all attempts to have her adopted out. Kicked out, he goes in search of his fortune so that he can return and earn Pauline’s hand in marriage. Pauline gets a job tutoring a young prince in the Middle East only for the prince to decide he wants her in his harem. Fleeing, she goes from peril to peril where she is sold to pygmies in Darkest Africa, is rescued by a 99½ year-old millionaire who wants to freeze her so that his one year-old grandson can marry her in twenty-five years time, becomes a movie star and goes into space as a Russian cosmonaut. All the time she is pursued by mad big game hunter Sten Martin and her beloved George come to rescue her.

The Perils of Pauline (1914) is often taken as being the world’s first serial. It wasn’t – that was What Happened to Mary? (1913). Mary also laid down much of the template that was more successfully used by The Perils of Pauline. The Perils of Pauline has however become probably the most famous, or at least the most archetypal serial. The name of Pearl White and images of her tied to a buzzsaw and a railway before an oncoming train have become quintessential images of the genre. Throughout the serial’s twenty chapters, White dealt with marauding pirates and American Indians, runaway balloons, crashing airplanes and sinking submarines as a villain attempted to kill her off and obtain her inheritance. As serials went, The Perils of Pauline was crude and lacking in the sophistication that later classics would rise to – nevertheless, it was the foremost one of its type.

In the 1960s following the camp comic-book craze created by tv’s Batman (1966-8), The Perils of Pauline was revived as this theatrical film. What was often crude and laughable in the originals is now played up as deliberately silly. The film is directed like a Keystone Kops comedy with all the action scenes shot with undercranked camera and the actors frenetically running around engaged in slapstick absurdities. There is little substance to the plot – it just consists of leaping from one sequence to one even sillier than the last. Fans of the original hated this but, in all fairness, the original was at best primitive and its exploits today seem as silly in their naivete as those deliberately sent up here.

Other versions of The Perils of Pauline are The Perils of Pauline (1934), a sound remake serial starring Evelyn Knapp. The Perils of Pauline (1947), despite the title, is not based on the serial but is actually a biopic of Pearl White.

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