Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Perils of Pauline


Betty Hutton was sort of the female equivalent of Danny Kaye (or vice versa), both of them known for comic songs and athletic performances. Here she is playing Pearl White. Pearl began in a shirt factory, but always dreamed of being on the stage. Delivering costumes to a traveling troupe, she was given a chance to audition, and even though her acting was terrible, she got the job. She immediately fell in love with Michael Farrington, the self-important but good-looking star of the shows. But she was seen by a movie producer and soon was starring in a series of serials that were very popular. She brought Farrington to the studio where he unhappily played second fiddle to her. Finally his ego couldn’t take it, he left her at the altar. Years later she had a big Vegas-style show in Paris, and just before Harrington was due to meet her again, she took a terrible fall while doing a stunt on stage. The doctors told her she must be operated on at once, or she would never walk again. Sacrificing herself, knowing she would need years of rehabilitation, she pretended she no longer loved him when he asked her to marry him. He left again, but was clued in by a friend and again declared his love for her. They got married and lived happily ever after.

Bullshit. Every word of it bullshit except the first sentence, and the bit about her being a big star in weekly serials. Why do they do that? Especially when Pearl’s real story is much, much more interesting. She was an amazing woman. Did most of her own stunts, which included some really hairy ones. She was first on the stage at the age of six. There was no Michael Farrington, he is entirely fictional. Though she injured her back doing a movie stunt and was in pain much of the time, she never took a near-fatal fall in Paris. She did have shows there, that’s all. She invested her millions wisely and never really had to work again. In 1937 she died of liver failure, probably brought on by drugs and alcohol she took to ease the chronic pain.

That story is so much better, and you don’t even have to use the sad ending or really mention the pain. She was one of the very first movie stars. Audiences came back again and again to see how the hell she managed to escape that oncoming train or the buzz saw or the car plunging off the cliff. This story is only mildly amusing, flawed by the snoozefest by-the-numbers plot.