Passion, Pathos, And Adventure

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The three chief plot ingredients of turn-of-the-century melodrama are unmistakably tagged in these three posters. Any impression that The Woman in Black would turn out to be as somber as its title is cheerfully dissipated by the artist’s choice of a scene in which Ruby, “an English music hall artiste,” gives a private showing of the cancan to “Tony Jack” Crane, son of the play’s villain. Since Jack is supposedly as sophisticated as his nickname, the expression on his face is no less titillating to the potential playgoer than the look of horror on the lady in the doorway. Even the sinister Woman in Black, properly cast, has her charms; for according to a contemporary review: “During her hypnotic feats she holds her arms well up in the air, in order to show very nicely her corsets fits, and what an exceedingly shapely figure she owns.” • The poster advertising Pique might just as aptly be labelled Pathos. Who is the dolorous lady, and why has she been abandoned to the icy city streets on this terrible night? One thin is clear: she has been wr-r-ronged, and it’s going to take some heavy acting and a dozen changes of scenery to set things right. In justice to Augustin DAly, the famous playwright-manager, and the author in this particular case, it should be said that Pique was more serious and dramatically probable than the most of its competitors; but the poster artist didn’t know that. •For the boys at the office who hungered after adventure, Under the Polar Star (1896) promised surfeit for a while—at least vicariously. Practically bursting with action, it offered murder, amnesia, shipwreck, a hero and villain adrift together on an ice floe, a heroinewho achieves the Arctic Circle disguised as a cabin boy, and—guess what?—a denouement in which Everything Comes Out All Right.