Universal's decision to re-make the famous 1914 serial, "The Perils of Pauline", was largely predicated on the fact that the studio had access to an enormous library of exotic newsreel and travelogue footage. Unfortunately, it was all silent material, photographed at silent speeds with mostly sub-standard cameras, and often suffering from under- or over-exposure.
What to do with this vast and wondrous archive that was already out of date? Answer: Use as much as possible in a serial. Thus "The Perils of Pauline" packs in all the stock footage that the editor can get his hands on in Universal's vast accumulated library of silent feature and newsreel material. Some of it at the opening of Chapter One has little relevance to this particular story, and just about all of it is too dark and too fast, but no matter, it's mostly great stuff. In Chapter One, a great deal of money has been spent on matching sets so that the result — especially for unsophisticated audiences — is decidedly spectacular. Chapter Two also moves at an admirable pace, but it is at the climax of Chapter Three that the director really excels in creating atmosphere and suspense.
Four is the menagerie chapter. Name an animal, any animal, and you'll find a clip in Chapter Four. Break your hearts, Tarzan fans.
Five is night. As a matter of fact, more than half the serial's action takes place at night — or in the depths of some gloomy temple or museum — all the better to slot in under-exposed or over-grainy stock material. In the hands of a careless director, this over-use of the newsreel library could have emerged as a serious detriment to audience enjoyment of the serial. But Taylor is clever enough not only to avoid most of the obvious pitfalls of over-use, of ill-matching and indiscriminate splicing, but to use the materials at hand and the restrictions thus imposed to augment and heighten the serial's thrills and excitements.
A fast-paced script, built around ingenious, edge-of-the-seat cliffhangers really helps. It's not until Chapter Ten that the furious chase settles down sufficiently to allow the characters opportunities to plan, reflect and explain.
The set designers have not spared themselves either. And it's good to see our attractive heroine allowed a few changes of costume. Her nightclub and museum outfits are stunners.
The rest of the players acquit themselves ably enough. Lackteen makes a great heavy, and it's always a pleasure to welcome William Desmond, even when he is forced to mouth banal lines as here. Desmond and most of the other players seem to do most of their own fighting, though the readily flailing fists and the obviously fake speed of it all do make these frequent free-for-alls somewhat monotonously unconvincing.
All in all, this "Perils of Pauline" in an unjustly neglected serial which would — if the video print were of a higher quality (the individual chapters vary from very poor to good) make a worthy and welcome addition to any fan's library.