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Distressed Damsels and Masked Marauders: Cliffhanger Serials of the Silent-Movie Era [Paperback]

Ed Hulse
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

16 April 2014
The motion-picture serial, routinely dismissed, overlooked, or undervalued by mainstream film historians, finally gets the attention it deserves in this meticulously researched and lovingly written book. Drawing on the well-established conventions of pulp fiction and blood-and-thunder stage melodrama, the motion-picture chapter play thrilled viewers of all ages and, more importantly, helped make moviegoing a weekly habit for millions of Americans during the Teens and Twenties. Author and film historian Ed Hulse, the editor of publisher of BLOOD 'N' THUNDER magazine, opens the book with a 25,000-word overview of this unique film form, debunking old myths and putting the silent serial in its proper historical context. The bulk of the book is devoted to Pathé Exchange, the company that employed the most popular stars (serial queens Pearl White, Ruth Roland, and Allene Ray) and released the most successful and influential chapter plays (THE PERILS OF PAULINE, THE EXPLOITS OF ELAINE, THE TIMBER QUEEN, THE GREEN ARCHER). Hulse presents a comprehensive behind-the-scenes look at Pathé's output, impeccably sourced and featuring first-hand recollections from people who were part of those halcyon days. DISTRESSED DAMSELS AND MASKED MARAUDERS has more than 250 illustrations: rare movie stills, posters, advertisements, lobby cards, candid on-set snapshots, even frame captures from the films themselves. Most of these have never before been reprinted. Hulse has in painstaking detail recaptured this remarkable period in motion-picture history, and even those film buffs with limited interest in serials will be fascinated by this evocative history of the chapter play.

Product details

  • Paperback: 290 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (16 April 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1499165498
  • ISBN-13: 978-1499165494
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 20 x 25 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 821,018 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Any longtime readers of Ed Hulse's superb Blood N'Thunder magazine (dedicated to pulp magazines, and cliffhanger serials), will know exactly what to expect from this book - and they won't be disappointed.

The author is a lifelong serial fan and authority (since falling in love with the genre in the 1950's), and his magazines and books all demonstrate a wealth of knowledge about the subjects at hand, as well conveying a vital sense of fun and enjoyment (which so many dry and pompous genre writers manage to leave out of their manuscripts).

Distressed Damsels And Masked Marauders stands as the single best book ever written about the much neglected subject of silent serials, with a ton of information about the production of the actual serials themselves - which at times makes you feel like you're they're on the set of these forgotten gems. The amount of research for this book must have been staggering (the writing of this tome took nearly a decade of work from Mr Hulse), as so much never-before-heard material is revealed - which really brings these (mainly missing) silent serials to life in a way that no previous works have managed.

The book is also packed with rare photos, and poster art, making it a visual treat too, and a must-have for any serial fan (whether experienced or new to the genre). Unlike some of the awful and overpriced serial books (particularly a couple of lousy McFarland & Co hack jobs, which are little more than IMDB-copied lists of credits and synopses), D.D.A.M.M. deserves a permanent place on your bookshelf, as it's one that you'll return to again and again.
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Book Ever on Movie Serials! 5 May 2014
By tinylion - Published on Amazon.com
I ordered this book from the author’s web site and just finished reading it. In fact it was hard to put down once I stopped looking at the pictures and actually started reading. The amount of research that must have gone into this book is staggering. The author says he started working on it in 1989 and I can believe it. I’ve read other books on serials but none of them had as much historical information as this one. Instead of just concentrating on the films themselves he provides a lot of background on the studio histories and the people who made the serials, quoting from private letters and interviews he did with people like Joe Bonomo and Yakima Canutt.

Until reading this book I never knew how much serials owed to old-fashioned stage melodramas of the 19th century, and the author explains how many plot twists and character types carried over from stage to film. Also, in the first section of the book he devotes a lot of space to how serials were produced and advertised, and how they were distributed. He explains things like “states rights,” which is a term you see in other books on film history. He also goes into the whole business of early serials being tied in with newspapers as a circulation gimmick. I knew some of this information but he goes into more detail on this than earlier writers did.

There are many great stories behind the making of these early serials. What really fascinated me was all the behind the scenes drama involving the serial PATRIA, which was produced by William Randolph Hearst (“Citizen Kane”). I thought the author was exaggerating when he referred to this serial creating an international incident, but it really did. In fact the whole history of the Pathe studio is very absorbing and you can tell that the author had access to a lot of private information.

Before I even started reading the text I spent at least an hour just looking at all the illustrations, more than 200 altogether. There are still photos, posters,advertisements, etc. A few of them looked familiar from other books but the vast majority I never saw before. It is amazing that the author was able to find so many great photos taken behind the scenes, especially when you consider most of these photos are almost a hundred years old. The quality of the photo reproduction is amazing.

I know there are serial fans who are not interested that much in silent movies and prefer the 1930s and 1940s serials from Republic, Universal, Columbia, etc. But trust me, you will find things in this book that you never knew about how serials were made. I have been a serial fan for almost 50 years and have read almost every book on the subject, but I learned things from this one that have not appeared in any of the others. It is a valuable addition to my library of film books and I can’t wait for the companion volume that the author mentions in his preface.
5.0 out of 5 stars There will never be a better book on silent serials... until his next one! 4 May 2014
By Mike Bifulco - Published on Amazon.com
It’s difficult to imagine anybody doing a better job on this subject than Ed Hulse has. I’m familiar with his magazine Blood n Thunder and his book on pulp fiction, and they are so impressively done that I decided to buy this book even though my interest in serials is mostly confined to the sound period. I was not disappointed. Distressed Damsels & Masked Marauders is just as impressive as Mr. Hulse’s other works. He is a very entertaining writer and his enthusiasm for the subject always shines through. You can tell from the book’s preface that he truly loves serials and this passion comes through on every page. But Distressed Damsels is not the gushing of a fanboy, it’s a thoroughly researched history. You can tell this easily from the number of sources he quotes, especially old news magazines published for people in the movie industry. I especially enjoyed all the quotes from theater owners of the time. You don’t see many film-history books using this type of information but it gives valuable context.

Hulse also describes some of the key people in serial history with a lot of detail. For example I am a big fan of Spencer Bennett, who directed some of my favorite serials at Columbia and Republic Pictures. But I didn't realize how active he was in serials of the silent movie days, not just as a director but a stunt man and character actor as well. The book also has candid photos of him making such serials as The Green Archer, Play Ball and Snowed In. There are many other candids taken on sets of many silent serials. There’s a great gag shot of Warner Oland (before his Charlie Chan days) pretending to choke Pearl White on the set of one of her serials. I had no idea photos like these still existed and you have to give Hulse a lot of credit for digging up so many of them.

The bottom line is, this is an awesome book for serial fans and also fans of silent movies. There is a large amount of background on the whole process including advertising and distribution as well as production and writing. It’s extremely interesting material that has been well presented. The photos are obviously rare and well chosen. Highly recommended.
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