Saturday Breakfast Serial 004 – The Crimson Ghost (1946) Chapter 4: The Laughing Skull

cg1Welcome back! It’s Saturday morning again which means it’s time for the next chapter of our ongoing serial The Crimson Ghost and more movie serial history. (Previous Chapters: 1  2, 3)

Last time we took a look at the earliest movie serial, 1912’s What Happened to Mary. This time, I’d like to spend a little time with what may be the longest serial. Or, it may not be, depending on your perspective.

From November 7, 1914 to February 24, 1917 the Kalem Company, a New York City based studio which was founded in 1907 by George Kleine, Samuel Long, and Frank J. Marion, released the 119 chapter movie series The Hazards of Helen.

The reason I say The Hazards of Helen may or nay not be the longest serial is that it depends on how you actually define a movie serial. It fits the description in the sense that each “chapter” lasted only 12 minutes, and they were released serially each Saturday. However, since there is no direct continuity between the different shorts (i.e., no cliffhangers – each short is self contained) and they can actually be watched singly or in any order, the argument has been made that it should be considered a film series as opposed to an actual serial.

220px-HazardsofHelen-NervesHowever you define it or decide to classify it, when you consider that the entire series is comprised of 119 shorts and totals out at almost 24 hours, it has to be considered quite an achievement.

The Hazards of Helen was based on a novel written by John Russell Corvell and a play by Denman Thompson. It was adapted for the screen by W. Scott Darling. The first 48 episodes were directed by J.P. McGowan and the rest were directed by James Davis.

Over the course of the series, the character of Helen was portrayed by four different actresses. The original Helen was actress Helen Holmes who played the character for the first 26 episodes, except for number 18 in which Anna Q. Nilsson replace Holmes due to illness. Episodes 27-49 starred Elsie McLeod and then Rose Wenger Gibson took over the role and starred until the end of the series.

The series appears to have been quite action packed, calling for Helen to do things such as leaping off the roof of a building, roaring around a sharp mountain curve behind the wheel of a speeding car, or jumping onto a moving train from a car or a galloping horse while chasing train robbers.

Unfortunately, it appears that most of the episodes have been lost to time, but some of them do survive and are available in various places, including YouTube and the Internet Archive.

Obviously, The Crimson Ghost doesn’t have anywhere near the number of chapters that The Hazards of Helen did, which is good for our purposes, or else we’d be waiting forever – or at least for over two years – to find out who’s behind that skull mask. Instead we’ve only got 12 chapters to watch before we go to something different, so what say we move on to chapter 4?

Next time: Chapter 5 of The Crimson Ghost: “Flaming Death”, and more movie serial  history. Be here!


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