Serial Queen Melodramas

Posted by Sarah

I thought it might be interesting to return to our consideration of early film melodrama. While previously we focused on the suffering, passive, heroine (particularly evident in DW Griffith’s films starring Lillian Gish) there are alternative views of women in the teens. One of these is present in the Serial Queen Melodramas.

Lass of the lumberlands

The Serial Queen Melodramas are particularly noteworthy as their heroines challenge some assertions about the portrayal of women in American Cinema of the teens and twenties. There is a notion that prior to It girl Clara Bow’s appearance in the late 1920s female stars belonged in either the passive virgin or the threatening vamp camp. (Though Bow and other progressive female stars certainly encouraged a focus on positive female sexuality.) However, as can be seen from the above card advertising Helen Homes in A Lass of the Lumberlands (1916), the serial queen, while imperilled on occasion, was often active. The fast pace of these serials also provides a useful comparison to the action-filled male melodramas of later Hollywood which Steve Neale wrote of.

Pearl WhiteWhile several different Serial Queen Melodramas were produced in the teens, few are widely available. Of these, The Perils of Pauline series retains public resonance. This series, from 1914, starred Pearl White (pictured left) in loosely connected adventures. Apparently 20 episodes were made, but only the 9 part European version survives. The chapters can be found on the internet archive using the links below. Chapter length varies from 9-29 mins, with the average about 20 mins. They total approximately 200 mins.


Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Part 5:

Part 6:

Part 7:

Part 8:

Part 9:

Perils of Pauline

Scholarly work in this area of melodrama includes Ben Singer’s excellent article “Female Power in the Serial-Queen Melodrama: The Etiology of an Anomaly.” Camera Obscura 8.1 22 (1990): 90-129 and Jon Burrows’ fascinating examination of British action heroines: “‘Melodrama of the Dear Old Kind’: Sentimentalising British Action Heroines in the 1910s.” Film History: An International Journal 18.2 (2006): 163-173.

(Please see a post on our additional blog for more information on these.)

As always, enjoy the melodrama links, and log in to comment, or email me on to add you thoughts or to propose a melodramatic area for us to discuss!

Lois Weber’s The Blot (1921) to be screened at the BFI

Posted by Sarah, on Frances’ behalf

the blot

The BFI will be screening a Lois Weber film next month which may be of interest to some of you. Weber, you may remember, was the director of one of the early cinema shorts we watched last term called Suspense (1913). Weber was a prominent film director of the period, often making films which addressed social issues and controversial topics. The BFI will be screening Weber’s The Blot from 1921 next month which is an important film in the director’s oeuvre and it incorporates many of the themes we have discussed in our melodrama meetings. Here is the description from the BFI website:

“Lois Weber was in her time one of the most influential figures in the US film industry. Her masterpiece, The Blot, is a realistic study of genteel poverty among the struggling middle-classes. A professor scarcely has the means to support his wife and daughter, who in turn has three suitors, one an [sic] poor cleric, one the son of a nouveau riche neighbour, and one a playboy. The film is a subtle, compassionate study of the vagaries of society’s rewards and the cruel masquerade of gentility.”