Recommended Reading

"Distressed Damsels and Masked Marauders: Cliffhanger Serials of the Silent-Movie Era"

by Ed Hulse (Murania Press, 2014, 282 pages)

Author Ed Hulse has provided a unique and informative book on the silent serial. Hulse's love of serials goes back over 50 years, and he began his research for this book in earnest about 25 years before its publication. As he noted in his preface, he regretted not starting his research earlier in life when more silent stars were still alive, but he was able to interview Joe Bonomo, Yakima Canutt and Esther Ralston for this book. In addition to searching archives and gaining opportunities to view films that we may never see on the home video market, he also devoured trade industry publications from the teens and twenties for information. Indeed, the book is designed for that special niche of silent movie fan who enjoys the serials and, in particular, wants to know more about the Pathé serials -- to which over 200 of its 282 pages are devoted. But, as Hulse notes, Pathé was the preimminent silent movie serial producer setting the standard for serials over the next several decades with pioneering serials such as "The Perils of Pauline," "The Exploits of Elaine," "The Iron Claw" and "The Red Circle." Some of these are of particular interest with, of course, "The Perils of Pauline" being the granddaddy of all serials (interesting side note: Hulse points out that early serials did not always have "cliff-hanger" endings - many times wrapping up the each week's episode with a neat conclusion). "The Exploits of Elaine" was the first serial to introduce a "mystery villain" whose identity was not revealed untilt the final chapter. "The Iron Claw," on the other hand (no pun intended), gave moviegoers the first mystery hero who "countered the villain's schemes" and rescued Pearl White when necessary. "The Red Circle" introduced fans to possibly the second most popular serial star of the silent film era, Ruth Roland. In his book, Hulse takes us on an informative ride through Pathé's serials straight up to the end of the silent era. Along the way, you'll see some well-known stars in these serials such as (surprisingly) sound era star Jean Arthur in her early days, Jack Mulhall, Allene Ray, Walter Miller (who was very active with D.W. Griffith in the Biograph days), Gene Tunney, Charles Hutchison, Marguerite Courtot, Juanita Hansen, June Caprice, Jack Dempsey, Creighton Hale, Mollie King, Warner Oland, Irene Castle, Sheldon Lewis, Lionel Barrymore, Crane Wilbur, Paul Panzer, Antonio Moreno, Helene Costello, Ralph Graves, Eddie Polo, King Baggot, and many more. This reviewer's favorite part of the book is the first 75 pages which gives an absorbing overview of silent serials -- and the amazing photos (lots of them!) throughout the book are worth the price alone -- most of them likely seeing publication in a book for the first time ever. The lack of an index is annoying, but, other than that, this trade paperback has everything going for it. The unfortunate part of reading about these wonderful serials is that so few have survived until today. As noted earlier, this may not be for everyone, but it's an integral part of silent movie history and especially useful if you want to learn more about a particular serial or serial star.

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