The Perils of Pauline (1914, Louis J. Gasnier and Donald MacKenzie), the European version, Chapter 3: The Pirate Treasure

The Pirate Treasure doesn’t give Pearl White anything more to do than usual in Pauline, despite her playing Pauline, but it’s one heck of an amusing chapter. Villains Paul Panzer and Francis Carlyle (who really ought to be top-billed since they have the most to do every chapter–so far) are walking along trying to figure out how to kill White and happen across a destitute old sailor (Donald MacKenzie). They like the look him and it turns out MacKenzie isn’t above some accessory to murder, so long as he gets paid.

Panzer’s scheme has MacKenzie telling White he’s got buried treasure on an island. Presumably because Panzer knows White won’t be able to resist helping MacKenzie get the buried treasure?

At first, MacKenzie terrifies White and her would-be beau, Crane Wilbur, rushes to her rescue. Wilbur’s intrusion convinces White she should listen to MacKenzie’s tale, regardless of him being a terrifying old sailor. So she boots Wilbur out, listens to the tale, and agrees to help him.

When Wilbur wants to know what she’s up to on her boating expedition, she refuses to tell him, which kicks off his subplot. He gets a buddy and hires a boat to follow her.

Except the skipper they hire is in Carlyle’s pay and dumps them on an empty island. They build a raft, which sinks, but then swim to shore on a different island. By that time, White and her party have gotten to that island, where they’re stopping over to go to the treasure island.

That extra time gives Wilbur time to put on black face and pretend to be a cook so he can go with them. It’s a fairly complex disguise–including a hairpiece; so the staging island must have had a costume shop.

The plot holes–Wilbur’s disappearing friend, White’s erratic behavior, Wilbur not–you know–wanting to wait for White’s ship to depart before following it–makes Treasure rather amusing.

Technically the best part is MacKenzie’s flashback to childhood–he’s a cabin boy who has to kill the entire crew of a ship to defend himself from being thrown overboard. It’s a great gunfight turned knife fight turned brawl. Whoever plays young MacKenzie does well.

MacKenzie’s makeup is awesome as well.

The chapter only has one Peril, which is fine, especially since it gives Panzer and Carlyle their best moment of villainy in the whole thing.


Directed by Louis J. Gasnier and Donald MacKenzie; screenplay by Charles W. Goddard and Basil Dickey, based on the novel by Goddard; director of photography, Arthur C. Miller; released by the Eclectic Film Company.

Starring Pearl White (Pauline), Crane Wilbur (Harry), Paul Panzer (Koerner), Francis Carlyle (Hicks), and Donald MacKenzie (Blinky Bill, the pirate).

The Grim Game (1919, Irvin Willat)

Some of The Grim Game is spent on Harry Houdini’s illusions. The film puts Houdini, playing a reporter, in various tight spots where he has to escape from one thing or another. By the third act of the film, Houdini’s escapes aren’t even the focus–though there is a fantastic mid-air plane sequence. The plot gets in the way.

The film gives the illusion of great complexity. Houdini’s rich uncle (Thomas Jefferson in the film’s only weak performance) is an awful miser and is planning on shutting down Houdini’s newspaper (Houdini’s the star reporter). So Houdini hatches a plan to save the paper. It requires Jefferson to go missing; of course, all the good guys will know where he’s gone.

This development comes after Game spends a lot of time setting up Jefferson, setting up Arthur Hoyt as his doctor, Ann Forrest as his ward (who Houdini romances but who Hoyt wants to marry for her eventual fortune). Most of this setup is a waste of time (especially in the case of Mae Busch as a cabaret star who gets involved). Walter Woods’s script meanders, oblivious to its lack of suspense.

Obviously, things go wrong–way too quickly–and Houdini ends up in jail. Director Willat does all right with the action, but he has no time for anything else. He rushes, almost nervous about giving away too many clues to the eventual mystery. Except, without clues or questions, the mystery resolves lamely.

Hoyt’s excellent, Forrest’s likable (even if she barely has anything to do–it’s not even clear she knows Hoyt is a suitor). Houdini’s confident and thorough. The film never takes itself too seriously, which is swell, except that lack of self-interest hurts once it gets to the “who cares” resolution to the mystery. It needed a better script. And more Houdini escapes.



Directed by Irvin Willat; screenplay by Walter Woods, based on a story by Arthur B. Reeve and John Grey; directors of photography, Frank M. Blount and J.O. Taylor; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Harry Houdini (Harvey Hanford), Ann Forrest (Mary Cameron), Arthur Hoyt (Dr. Harvey Tyson), Augustus Phillips (Clifton Allison), Tully Marshall (Richard Raver), Mae Busch (Ethel Delmead) and Thomas Jefferson (Dudley Cameron).

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