“thank Heaven I Arrived In Time …”

July 2017

The rescue scene was to melodrama what the strip tease later became to burlesque; without several per show, the patrons would have demanded their money back—indignantly. As a consequence, the “scenic artist” and his crew of painters, carpenters, and mechanics were as important to box-office success as the author himself. There we herculean efforts to invent new effects, especially since some of the most popular had been, for all practical purposes, patented. Augustin Daly, for instances, established by litigation his exclusive right to the onrushing-express-train-heroine-bound-to-the-tracks episode. • Often a rescue scene called for thespians who were likewise stunt artists. A man from the New York Dramatic Mirror , in the spring of 1898, examined models of the sets for John Martin’s Secret that should rank with the most thrilling of realisti climaxes. The setting represents … a hill on the side of which is … the heavy woman [i.e., the villains]. A car, suspended on a trolley, runs from the mine to a hill … The sensation occurs when the hill … slides, taking the hut, with it and leaving the woman standing on a projecting plank in peril of her life. The heroine is at this moment passing through mid air in the car, and shouts to the other woman to jump. She does so, and the heroine catches her …” According to a later review, this scene “took the house by storm” on opening night. • The Last Stroke (1896), although its Great Leap scene was not so novel, was very much à la mode in one respect: it capitalized on the growing American feeling over Cuba’s plight. The Land of the Living , modestly billed as “a strong drama,” obviously drew much of its strength from those reliable ingredients, fire and flood.