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LGM Film Club, Part 229: The Hazards of Helen: Escape on the Fast Freight

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Imagine yourself at the movies in the 1910s. By this point, there are real cinemas. You are going to go there with your family, or your friends, or your girl/boyfriend. The movies are still pretty short–usually 15 minutes or less. Sometimes you might get a 30 minute two-reeler. Part of what made Birth of a Nation such an epic is that it was the first movie to be an actual epic, even outside of its horrible subject matter. But that’s far from common.

So, you want your money’s worth. No one is paying for 15 minutes of entertainment. When you went to the movies then, you would see a series of films. Might be a cartoon, probably a western, probably a comedy of some kind. But 4 or 5 movies would get you an hour or even a bit more of entertainment. Now, unlike today, where everything is marketed to a very specific audience, back then everything was just thrown together. So you needed stories that would appeal to some part of your audience with each showing since not every film was likely to please everyone.

That included young women. If the westerns were for men and the comedies for everyone, what would appeal specifically to young women? This is when you started to see serials about a woman and her adventures. These were pretty common. The Hearst films had The Perils of Pauline series. Another was The Hazards of Helen. This installment, Escape on the Fast Freight, is a great example of their appeal. In this, a young woman has a pretty nifty job–she’s in charge of a railroad station. She gets robbed. The rail company decides that only a man can handle that job. So she goes and chases down the crooks and [spoiler alert!] gets her job back. It’s a film that shows what a woman could do if she was plucky and tough and you can see why women would want to see this. Also, the stunts are real life action and were not without danger to the actors. All in all, this film holds up pretty well.

This presentation on YouTube has no sound. So go to my old trick–just put on some instrumental music you like as the soundtrack while you watch. It will work fine.

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