Perils of Pauline The (1947)
Directed by George Marshall this P.J. Wolfson biographical story about silent film serial actress Pearl White (the titled Pauline) was made into a fictionalized biography-comedy featuring Betty Hutton (as Ms. White) by screenwriter Frank Butler (Going My Way (1944)) with help from Wolfson.
Betty Hutton plays Pearl White a seamstress in a sweatshop that loves music. In fact she’s sings a song mocking her boss (Frank Faylen) that gets her in trouble. When trying to resolve the issue she meets an actress Julia Gibbs (Constance Collier) she’s admired from afar who’s there to pick up a costume. Ms. Gibbs in turn admires the way Pearl handles herself with her lecherous boss. When Ms. Gibbs can’t pay cash for the dress the boss sends Pearl with her to the theater to retrieve the money before releasing the costume. Once there Pearl is star struck falling immediately for the lead actor and theater company boss Michael Farrington (John Lund). Ms. Gibbs tells Farrington that Pearl wants to audition and since the audience has been waiting because of the dress he shoves her out on the stage to kill time.
After a rough start Pearl wins over the crowd with a rousing exuberant singing performance (Ms. Hutton’s trademark). Though it’s not what Farrington would have liked given the fact that his troupe is about to perform William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet he hires her. On the train out of town Pearl meets Timmy Timmons (Billy De Wolfe) who immediately and humorously begins tutoring her in proper speaking enunciating and “projecting from the diaphragm” techniques. Though Farrington initially makes Pearl the company’s seamstress and ironer of costumes he works her into small parts and begins tutoring her himself. One of the first things he does is tie her hands together insisting that actors don’t need to use their bodies or emote so grotesquely. And until Ms. Gibbs & Timmons tell him he’s too dense to realize that Pearl is in love with him.
After yet another mistake in front on an audience and a final tongue lashing by Farrington Pearl quits the company. Ms. Gibbs arranges a singing audition for Pearl with her agents and though they’re impressed they tell her to come back after the summer season when there may be an opening. But as fate would have it the phone rings with an opportunity for Ms. Gibbs to work in a moving picture. Being an actress of course she doesn’t want anything to do with it. But Pearl convinces her that they need the money and she relinquishes saying “but don’t tell anybody”;-)
The movie studio is being run by director George McGuire (William Demarest) who hasn’t told Ms. Gibbs that she is playing the “straight” in a slapstick comedy. When she gets hit with a pie in the face spectator Pearl intervenes and while helping the blinded Gibbs out of there she stumbles through the sets of several other pictures being made at the same time. McGuire witnesses all this including her unwitting courage with a real lion and hires her refusing to take no for an answer for $100 a week on the spot. Hence the highly successful Perils of Pauline serial and indeed the motion picture industry is born.
In the meantime of course Farrington’s theater company struggles and in the face of competition from the movies collapses entirely. While filming an episode of Pauline Pearl runs across Timmy who is quickly hired as a villain for the serial. Both then convince the now practically destitute circus barker Farrington to join their enterprise and be the hero character. He must now learn to use his body and physically emote to be a successful film star;-)
During the filming of a scene for the serial a publicity stunt by McGuire turns into a mishap that strands Farrington and Pearl in a runaway balloon. A harrowing experience including enduring a fierce storm which leads to love and their engagement. However when McGuire turns their wedding plans into more free publicity for star Pearl Farrington’s reflection on the kind of an actor he’s become vs. who he’s always been leads to them calling off the whole affair.
*** SPOILERS ***
From here the rest of the film is fairly predictable: Farrington finds success as a “real” actor the film industry evolves to more serious pictures ending the need for McGuire’s serial Pearl then becomes the toast of Paris in a different kind of show and with a little tragedy sprinkled in there’s a reconciliation such that true love wins out in the end.