Monday, May 12, 2014
A serial, more specifically a movie serial, film serial or chapter play, is a short originally shown in theaters in conjunction with one or two feature films. They were related to pulp fiction magazines. Also known as "chapter plays", they were extended motion pictures broken into a number of segments called "chapters" or "episodes". Each chapter was screened at the same theater for one week, and ended with a cliffhanger, in which the hero and heroine found themselves in a perilous situation with little apparent chance of escape. Viewers had to return each week to see the cliffhangers resolved and to follow the continuing story. Serials were especially popular with children, and for many youths in the first half of the 20th century a typical Saturday at the movies included a chapter of at least one serial. The major studios had their own retinues of actors and writers, their own prop departments, existing sets, stock footage, and music libraries. The early independent studios had none of these, except for being able to rent the sets of independent producers of western features. The firms saved money by reusing the same cliffhangers, stunt and special effect sequences over the years. Mines or tunnels flooded often, even in Flash Gordon, and the same model cars and trains went off the same cliffs and bridges. Republic had a Packard limousine and a Ford Woodie station wagon used in serial after serial so they could match the shots with the stock footage from the model or previous stunt driving. Three different serials had them chasing the Art Deco sound truck, required for location shooting, for various reasons. Male fist-fighters all wore hats so that the change from actor to stunt double would not be caught so easily. A rubber liner on the hatband of the stunt man's fedora would make a seal on the stunt man's head, so the hat would stay on during fight scenes.