"Perils of Pauline" -- cliff-hanger or not?

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Tue Feb 18 15:34:02 UTC 2014

There are some who call the 1914 Perils of Pauline a cliff-hanger,
and some, probably the majority, who do not.  The argument is
complicated by the fact that the negatives and prints for the
original 20 two-reel chapters have not been found, and later releases
have cut and pasted episodes.

Shelley Stamp, in "Movie-Struck Girls: Women and Motion Picture
Culture after the Nickelodeon" (2000), p. 119, suggests why P. of P.
may have been called a cliffhanger:

"In its account of the serial's twelfth chapter, the [New York
Dramatic] Mirror leaves out scenes that the Moving Picture] World
recounts at the beginning of the episode, and describes how the
installment ends with an incident that the World includes at the
beginning of the subsequent installment, complaining that this ending
is 'something like breaking off a story in the middle of a sentence.'
It therefore appears plausible that at least one exhibitor may have
shown the second reel of the twelfth episode together with the first
reel of the thirteenth episode as a combined package, possibly in
order to achieve a 'cliff-hanger' effect. ... [It seems likely] that
just as release dates seem to have been staggered in conjunction with
newspaper supplements, the ordering and combination of separate reels
might also have varied from venue to venue."

I note that the "original story synopses" from the Moving Picture
World seem to be taken as the true picture, and perhaps adduced as
the definitive evidence that P. of P. was not a cliff-hanger.  See
(Movie Serial Message Boards) and select 1910s-20s Silent Movie
Serials & Series / The 20 Original Chapters of THE PERILS OF PAULINE.

Whether or not what the Mirror saw was common, I still surmise that
"cliff-hanger" arose from association with the cliff-hanging scene in
the immensely popular P. of P.  Now all that remains is to find it
near 1914, or even better in a reference to P. of P. itself.


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