6/12/13: The Perils of Pauline (1947)


I was ecstatic when my wife, Cindy, said she wanted to watch George Marshall’s The Perils of Pauline starring Betty Hutton as Pearl White. I adore Pearl White. “I remember seeing her in the silent version of The Perils of Pauline. I seen it twice. Gee, when the pirate & the cook tried to get her to drink that poison. She sure does almost die elegant. But it ain’t only her. It’s anybody in show business. Why, I think they’re the most wonderful people there is.” 

Perils - Pearl

George Marshall’s The Perils of Pauline is a highly dramatized biography of the rise to fame of silent movie star Pearl White, lovingly portrayed by Betty Hutton, from seamstress in a sweatshop who longs to be in show business to the most famous silent actress in the world. In my Blog of Love Laughs at Andy Hardy, I discussed early Hollywood film serials. Well, Pearl White starred as Pauline in 20 shorts of about 20 minutes each, pioneering the cliffhanger format. By that we mean that each episode would end with Pauline in seemingly grave danger! How would she get out of this one? Well, the next episode would open with the closing scene from the previous & we’d see how she narrowly escaped death. Pearl was the first & most famous silent film serial star. She symbolizes “the girl tied to the railroad tracks”. Little did I know growing up that when Nell Fenwick was tied to the railroad tracks by Snidely Whiplash in nearly every Dudley Do-Right cartoon, that I was watching an homage to Pearl White. But, in reality, Pearl never was tied to the railroad tracks in the original serial. She is remembered for the cliché but that honor first went to Mabel Normand in Mack Sennett’s Barry Oldfield’s Race for a Life in 1913, one year before the first episode of The Perils of Pauline was released! Mabel was chained there to await her doom for rejecting the advances of the short’s villain, and then subsequently an implied gangbang by the villain & his 2 cohorts. It’s well worth a look so if you have 14 minutes, click this link ===> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIlxyiolQn8 .

Perils - Betty Perils - Dudley Perils - Mabel

In addition to Hutton (best known for her 1951 Golden Globe winning performance as Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun), The Perils of Pauline features excellent performances by John Lund as Pearl’s love interest, the great stage thespian, Michael Farrington; William Demarest, best known as My Three Sons’ Uncle Charley, as silent film director George ‘Mac’ McGuire; Billy De Wolfe as Pearl’s best friend & confidant Timmy; and especially Constance Collier as actrice supérieure Julia Gibbs. 

Perils - Lund          Perils - Mac

Perils - Timmy          Perils - Collier

Although the movie earned Frank Loesser an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song for I Wish I Didn’t Love You So, the best aspect of the movie is the costuming. As I said, the movie opens with Pearl as a sweatshop seamstress and I was immediately taken by the costumes. Minimal research confirmed my suspicion that the costume designer was The Incomparable Edith Head, credited for Gowns. She’s generally acknowledged as the greatest movie Costume Designer ever, and her 8 Academy Awards back it up! Not only is that the most by anyone in the category, it’s the most by any woman period! She was also nominated for another 27 Costume Design Oscars. Edith is so admired in Hollywood, that Brad Bird modeled Supersuit Designer Edna Mode after her in his animated instant classic & double Oscar winner, The Incredibles. He even did her voice! The Incredible Edith Head died in 1981, 8 months before Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid was released. That was the last of the 437 motion pictures for which she was Costume Designer. Otherwise, I’d seek her out so she could tell me in her Edna-like voice, “What have you been eating, darling? You’ve gotten so fat!” Oh well. I guess for now, I’ll have to settle for the magnificent Gowns worn by Betty Hutton as Pearl White, “the girl tied to the railroad tracks”, in George Marshall’s The Perils of Pauline! And you can as well. I’ve embedded the full motion picture at the bottom of the Blog. Just click Play and after 5 seconds you can skip the ad & watch the film. 3-Stars!

Perils - Edith Oscars Perils - Edith Perils - Bird


2 thoughts on “6/12/13: The Perils of Pauline (1947)

  1. I think I can shed light on the “tied to the railroad tracks” myth. These scenes were neither common nor expected in silent film. The trope originated with Victorian stage melodrama and the original victim in “Under the Gaslight” was a man who was rescued by a woman. The Mabel Normand short film was a raucous spoof of these Victorian plays and was not a reflection of silent film.

  2. Thank you for that clarification. It will stay as an addendum here since, the genesis was the Victorian stage and my claim that Mabel Normand was the first on film is therefore accurate. You commentary certainly puts this in historical perspective and is GREATLY appreciated.

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