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Now Available: A Scintillating Slice of Serial History

Posted in Murania Press,Serials on December 13, 2019 @ 10:55 pm

The complete story of Walter Miller and Allene Ray, king and queen of the silent serial. Beautiful, blonde Allene had already starred in three chapter plays for Pathé Exchange, Inc., when the firm teamed her with handsome, virile Walter in early 1925. Their first starring serial, Sunken Silver, was based on an Albert Payson Terhune novel adapted to the screen by ace scripter Frank Leon Smith. Directed by George B. Seitz with an assist by Spencer Gordon Bennet, it proved successful beyond expectations. With the glory days of episodic epics receding into history, Pathé was delighted to keep the pair together. Although Seitz left serials to direct features at Paramount and other studios, the Miller-Ray unit continued to function with Bennet promoted to full director and Smith providing the scenarios.

This group collaborated on nine more serials released by Pathé over the next four years. While some were better than others, the overall average was remarkably high. Among the very best were The Green Archer (1925, adapted from the classic mystery yarn by best-selling British mystery writer Edgar Wallace) and The House Without a Key (1926, adapted from Earl Derr Biggers’ first Charlie Chan novel). With a total of ten chapter plays to their credit, Miller and Ray were the most prolific team in the history of the form. To further exploit their popularity, Pathé occasionally featured each with other co-stars; Allene Ray would ultimately take the female lead in 16 chapter plays—more than any other actress. Miller notched 17 serials as leading man and at least a dozen more (in the sound era) as a villain. Director Bennet, having early on displayed his affinity for the genre, ultimately helmed some 53 episodic thrillers, including 1956’s Blazing the Overland Trail, the final serial produced for the theatrical market in America.

Partners in Peril, expanding upon material originally published in two Blood ‘n’ Thunder articles and the book Distressed Damsels and Masked Marauders, covers the Miller-Ray serials in exhaustive detail. Its exclusive sources include the private correspondence of Frank Leon Smith, several interviews with Spencer Bennet, and surviving copies of the original scripts to half of the team’s chapter plays. Additionally, this monograph features dozens of rare photos—including on-the-set candids—that became available to me only after publication of the BnT articles and Distressed Damsels.

For anybody interested in the silent-movie era in general and the classic cliffhangers in particular, Partners in Peril will not just provide hours of entertainment but also become a valuable reference to which you’ll return again and again.




One thought on “Now Available: A Scintillating Slice of Serial History

  1. Whoa! Right up my alley. I’ve always loved Miller’s villainous turns in talkie serials and westerns. There was such a steely determination in his performances. I’m always anxious to learn more about his earlier endeavors as silent-era hero, as well as that of pretty Allene Ray, whom I’ve only seen in a few scattered things. Looking forward to this, and plan to order by early next week.

    Just finished reading “The Spook Hills Mystery” over the weekend. Grand fun! The kind of western story and milieu I really enjoy. Always something interesting coming from Ed and his Murania sanctum!

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