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"The Wild Engine" (1915) starring Helen Holmes

"The Wild Engine" is a short action film from a serial by the name of "The Hazards of Helen", featuring Helen Holmes, a star of Silent Hall of Fame. This is episode 26 from a total of 119 weekly one reel films produced by Kalem, showing just how popular this serial was in 1914-1917. The first 48 films starred Helen Holmes, the remaining 71 starred Helen Gibson. They both played heroines that were independent and adventurous, resolving dangerous situations with quick thinking. Their acting was very physical and they performed their often very dangerous stunts. It is believed to be the longest film series in the silent era and one of the longest ever. Very few of the films survive, and we are happy to be able to show this rarity to our esteemed viewers. The film is directed by J.P. McGowan from a story by Edward T. Matlack.

Many of the episodes, including this one, tell about railroad adventures.  One morning Helen has a job interview  for a dispatcher.  The hiring manager likes her, but the top boss tell him: "I will hold you responsible if anything happens, because women can't use their heads in an emergency".

Helen has to deal with a hazardous situation right away.  A maneuvering locomotive goes on a wild run after the engineer is knocked out by a loose cable.  If Helen can't help it, the locomotive will collide from behind with an excursion train and many people may be hurt.  She takes the courier's motorcycle to catch up with the excursion train, but not before leaving a warning on the railway tracks for incoming trains.  One such train avoids collision by moving to a side track thanks to her note.

Helen rides on the railway tracks and must go over a bridge.  The operator, however, at this exact moment raises the bridge to let a steamship pass, and both Helen and the motorcycle end up falling in the river.  This misfortune doesn't deter her, however, and she is able to reach the excursion train just in time for it to move to a side track.  The runaway engine passes by harmlessly and after that it is captured and stopped by another locomotive.   

In the meantime dramatic events transpire at the office and we can see the exact timing by the clock on the wall.  At 12,47 the big boss's short fuse finally explodes and he fires the manager, who hired Helen, believing that she cannot cope with the situation.  Then Helen calls to give them the news that everything is under control and everybody is safe.  At 1,13 the big boss reinstates to his job the manager he laid off just 26 minutes before that.

The big boss presents his apologies to Helen and thanks her for the good work.  In a little insult to his injury he has to buy a new motorcycle.

You can see a slideshow of stills from this film and other interesting stuff on our website

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