Pearl White is rightly remembered as the queen of the serials, but she also deserves credit for the concept of the McGuffin. Scholars of Alfred Hitchcock's films know that 'McGuffin' was Hitchcock's term for an object or piece of information which is of no importance whatever to the movie audience, but which serves to motivate the characters in the film to chase each other. Pearl White had formalised this concept long before Hitchcock... but she used the term 'weenie' to describe the object or information which motivates the characters.
White's 1914 serial 'The Exploits of Elaine' (superior to the better-known 'Perils of Pauline') was so popular that two sequels were made. 'The New Exploits of Elaine' (10 chapters) is the first sequel, and this one picks up basically where the previous serial ended. The villainous Clutching Hand has paid the ultimate price for his villainy. Now the spotlight shifts to sinister Oriental crimelord Wu Fang (played by Edwin Arden with Sellotaped eyelids and Fu Manchu's hand-me-downs). Mister Wu is seeking the hoard of ill-gotten loot and stolen treasure which the Clutching Hand accumulated during his criminal career. Only the intrepid Elaine Dodge and her plucky friends can stop him. Creighton Hale is aboard, continuing his role from the previous film as bumbling sidekick Jameson.
'The New Exploits of Elaine' (which I've seen only in partial form) is more laughable than its predecessor, partly because the Oriental villain is a yellow-peril stereotype, but made even more ludicrous because the actor playing this role is clearly a white man in Chinese drag. Every time that Edwin Arden came on screen, I had to resist the urge to call out the old panto catchphrase: "Mister Wu! How DO you DO?"
SPOILERS: The last chapter ends with an exciting climax, in which 'scientific detective' Craig Kennedy has a Reichenbach-like confrontation with Wu Fang at the quayside. Both men fall into the sea, where Wu Fang is eaten by sharks and Craig Kennedy disappears beneath the surface, presumed dead ... until the next serial.
I'll rate 'The New Exploits of Elaine' 5 points out of 10.
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