I …is for

The Iron Claw


The twenty-part serial The Iron Claw was directed by serial veteran George B. Seitz and Edward José, with a scenario by Seitz based on a story by Arthur Stringer. A vehicle created primarily to showcase the “Queen of Serials” Pearl White, it proved to be one of the finest and most exciting serials that she made. In fact, as Kalton Lahue noted, because it was so popular with her fans, it was extended while still in production and later received rave notices wherever it played. Many of the serials produced in the mid-to late-1910s drew on a familiar formula: that is, a masked villain who preys on a sweet, pretty heroine, usually to usurp her fortune. But The Iron Claw distinguished itself by the clever way that it reversed that formula. While the identity of the villain was
clear from the beginning, the film’s mysterious masked figure turned out to be a hooded crime fighter who serves as an agent of good, not evil. In the serial, Margery Golden (Pearl White) is about to embark on a life of crime under the tutelage of Legar, the fearsome “Iron Claw.” A series of flashbacks explains how she finds herself in such a curious situation. Apparently Legar, as a young man (then named Ludwig Palidori), had made love to the wife of his employer Enoch Golden as a way of getting access to the Goldens’ plantation home so that he could steal the woman’s jewels. Realizing that blackmail would be easier, he threatened to expose Mrs. Golden, who offered him the jewels to ensure his silence.

Enoch, though, learning of the infidelity, throws his wife out of their home. As further punishment, he seizes Legar (played by Sheldon Lewis), brands his face, and cuts off his arm, an act that Legar avenges by opening the nearby dikes and flooding the plantation. He also kidnaps the Goldens’ young daughter Margery, whom he raises among his den of thieves and schools in crime. Her criminal career, he believes, will serve as a further humiliation to her father, who over the years has become an even wealthier and more prominent man. Legar’s plan, however, is foiled by the intervention of “The Laughing Mask” (played by Harry Fraser), the nemesis of all criminals, who saves Margery from a nefarious path, rescues her from the attempts on her life, and returns her to her father. Along the way, she becomes romantically linked with the Mask’s secretary, Davy Manley (Creighton Hale), who assists in reconciling her with both of her parents. Each episode ends with the same question: “Who is The Laughing Mask?” His identity is not revealed until the final episode. As Kalton Lahue noted, even in the credits, he appears as “????”

The identity of the “Laughing Mask” kept moviegoers guessing until the final episode.

The recurring question about the identity of the mysterious figure who menaces the hapless heroine was a suspense device employed in a number of serials, most notably The Exploits of Elaine (1914), the popular Wharton-produced serial in which Elaine is repeatedly threatened by the murderous “Clutching Hand,” the first faceless villain in serial pictures. (Every episode in Elaine ended with an image of the Clutching Hand’s claw-like hand, followed by a big question mark.) The Iron Claw also reunited White with several of her former Elaine cast members, including Creighton Hale, who had appeared in the earlier serial as Walter Jameson, the assistant to forensic detective Craig Kennedy, and Sheldon Lewis, who played the handsome young attorney Perry Bennett and was ultimately exposed as the villain.
Like the Elaine serial, The Iron Claw featured a variety of inventive weapons such as an electric ray, which the villain employs to burn down the Goldens’ property in order to make his former employer yield. It also threw in a few new ones, such as the Goldens’ parrot, who repeatedly warns “Look out for the Iron Claw!” And the serial’s stunts, which included an automobile jumping an open drawbridge and a chemical attack that backfires and turns the villain into a white-haired corpse, were truly sensational.

The Iron Claw proved to be a huge success with film audiences. As Ed Hulse notes, it shattered attendance records and reaffirmed Pearl White’s status as the preeminent serial actress—although for the first and only time in her serial career, she shared the spotlight with a secondary character, Harry L. Fraser, the “Laughing Mask,” whose identity is not revealed until the final episode.

Throughout the serial, Margery (Pearl White) enjoys the protection of “The Laughing Mask.”



Survival Status: Although nineteen of the twenty episodes are presumed lost, one incomplete episode (the seventh, “The Hooded Helper”) survives in the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Chapter 7, Part 1 (1916) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rqFAsGw5gZ4; Chapter 7, Part 2 (1916) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UlZGPINNEyo.

Director: Edward José, George B. Seitz

Release Date: February 27, 1916

Release Company: Pathé Exchange, Inc.

Cast: Pearl White (Margery Golden), Creighton Hale (Davy Manley), Sheldon Lewis (Legar, The Iron Claw), Harry L. Fraser (The Laughing Mask), J. E. Dunn (Enoch Golden), Carey Lee (Mrs. Golden), Clare Miller (Margery as a Child), Henry G. Sell (Wrench), Edward José, E. Cooper Willis, Allan Walker, Bert Gudgeon, George B. Seitz.

Episodes: (two reels each) 1. The Vengeance of Legar. 2. The House of Unhappiness. 3. The Cognac Mask. 4. The Name and the Game. 5. The Incorrigible Captive. 6. The Spotted Warning. 7. The Hooded Helper. 8. The Stroke of Twelve. 9. Arrows of Hate. 10. The Living Dead. 11. The Saving of Dan O’Mara. 12. The Haunted Canvas. 13. The Hidden Face. 14. The Plunge for Life. 15. The Double Resurrection. 16. The Unmasking of Davy. 17. The Vanishing Fakir. 18. The Green-Eyed God. 19. The Cave of Despair. 20. The Triumph of the Laughing Mask.