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The Perils of Pauline

The Perils of Pauline(1947)

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teaser The Perils of Pauline (1947)

Betty Hutton, the brash, boisterous comedienne and singer known as the "Blonde Bombshell," was hugely popular in the 1940s. A big band singer and Broadway star while still in her teens, Hutton had signed a contract with Paramount in 1941, and proved equally successful in a series of splashy wartime musicals. She also showed her comic abilities in the riotous Preston Sturges film, The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944).

The Perils of Pauline (1947), made when Hutton was at the peak of her fame and appeal, is very loosely based on the exploits of Pearl White, queen of the silent movie serials. The real White had been a circus performer who hurt her back falling off a horse, and had gone to work as a secretary with a film company. She got her break when the female lead of a western got sick. White didn't do many of her own stunts because of the back injury - small men stood in for her. Instead, she spent more time developing her screen persona. The Perils of Pauline is a typical biopic of the era, tailored more to Hutton's knockabout talents than to any facts about Pearl White's life and career. It's full of anachronisms, not the least of which are Frank Loesser's pop songs. But the songs are so charming, and Hutton performs them so well, that one of them, "I Wish I Didn't Love You So" was nominated for an Oscar®. Another, "Poppa Don't Preach To Me" (no relation to the Madonna song from the 1980s) was a jukebox hit.

Even though The Perils of Pauline plays fast and loose with the facts of White's life, it does offer some authenticity by casting some of White's original co-stars in cameo roles in the silent movie sequences: Paul Panzer, who played the villain in the original The Perils of Pauline (1914); and Creighton Hale, who was the hero in another White serial, The Exploits of Elaine (1914). Other silent screen actors cast in bit parts included cowboy star William Farnum and his brother Franklyn Farnum; and Mack Sennett stalwarts Chester Conklin, James Finlayson, and Keystone Kop Hank Mann. The large cast also included superb support from character actors Billy De Wolfe, William Demarest and Constance Collier.

Critics noted the film's lack of authenticity, and found the story clichd, but enjoyed Hutton's shenanigans. "This is strictly and clearly a Hutton vehicle, streamlined to her tempestuous talents," wrote Bosley Crowther in the New York Times. "Miss Hutton plays it with enthusiasm unimpaired and with the wide-eyed and square-jawed persistence of a primitive movie queen...which makes for rib-tickling entertainment, if not authentic history...the old-time actors in the antics do their brief stints with joyful clat."

Hutton still had two of her biggest hits ahead of her, Annie Get Your Gun (1950) and The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), but she also had a growing reputation for being difficult. When the studio refused to let Hutton's second husband, choreographer Charles O'Curran, direct her films, she walked out of her Paramount contract, and her career took a nosedive. She went back to performing onstage, but made only one more film. Plagued by personal and financial problems, she vanished from the public eye, until she was discovered in the mid-1970s working as a housekeeper for a Catholic priest in Rhode Island.

Composer Frank Loesser also had his biggest hits ahead of him. He eventually won an Oscar® for his song "Baby, It's Cold Outside," from Neptune's Daughter (1949), and wrote many other memorable songs for the movies. His greatest success came after he left Hollywood for Broadway, where he wrote the scores for such blockbuster stage musicals as Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

Director: George Marshall
Producer: Sol C. Siegel
Screenplay: P.J. Wolfson, Frank Butler, based on a story by Wolfson suggested by incidents in the life of Pearl White and Charles W. Goddard's original serial, The Perils of Pauline
Cinematography: Ray Rennahan
Editor: Arthur Schmidt
Art Direction: Hans Dreier, Roland Anderson
Music: Robert Emmett Dolan, songs by Frank Loesser
Principal Cast: Betty Hutton (Pearl White), John Lund (Michael Farrington), Billy De Wolfe (Timmy), William Demarest (George McGuire), Constance Collier (Julia Gibbs), Frank Faylen (Joe Gurt).
C-96m. Closed captioning.

by Margarita Landazuri

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