The Perils Of Pauline (1947)
The whimsical opening of The Perils of Pauline sets the perfect tone for this fond look back at the early days of cinema. It was a time when lack of sound allowed cowboy shootouts to be filmed alongside drawing-room dramas and slapstick comedies. When only stage acting was considered legitimate and movies were referred to as ‘animated tintypes’. A time when actors performed their own stunts and weekly film instalments always ended with a cliff-hanger. It was the time of Pearl White - “queen of the serials”.
The story, such as it is, follows Pearl from a garment sweatshop to a travelling acting troupe to her starring roles in silent films. Yet like the serials this biopic pays homage to, the plot is secondary to the antics of the leading lady. Whereas the serials’ storyline merely served to facilitate Pearl’s death-defying stunts, here it allows Hutton free rein to perform in her uniquely boisterous, zany manner. She’s a riot.
Equally amusing are Billy de Wolfe as Pearl’s ‘villainous’ co-star, William Demarest as her megaphone-wielding director and Constance Collier as a refined stage actress who can take a pie in the face as well as anybody. Even John Lund, in the thankless role of Pearl’s love interest, gets into the spirit of the piece. Only the film’s forgettable musical numbers detract from what is a most enjoyable romp.
All characters apart from Pearl White are fictional.
Pearl White had appeared in films (mostly slapstick comedies) for four years prior to starring in The Perils of Pauline.
Pearl White was married twice.
Pearl White did not lose use of her legs as a result of a fall on a Paris stage. However, much earlier in her career (while performing a stunt in The Perils of Pauline), she did injure her spine which caused her pain for the rest of her life.
Biopic recreates many scenes which were typical of Pearl White’s movies (including the famous ‘tied to the railway tracks' stunt that never appeared in any of her movies). Film also alludes to the time a publicity stunt actually left Pearl stranded in a runaway balloon.