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Exploits of Three-Fingered Kate, The (1912)


Main image of Exploits of Three-Fingered Kate, The (1912)
35mm, black and white, silent
7 x 600-1100 feet episodes
DirectorsH.O. Martinek
 Charles Raymond
Production CompanyBritish & Colonial;
 Cosmopolitan Film Co.
ScriptHarold Brett

Cast: Ivy Martinek (Kate); Alice Moseley (Mary); C.C. Calvert (Sheerluck Finch); Edward Durrant (Rickshaw / Baron Rochid / Lord Malcolm); Fred Paul (Sir Douglas Carrington)

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Kate, who is missing the last two digits of her right-hand, is head of a criminal gang which also includes her sister, Mary. Together they execute a series of daring robberies and always manage to outwit their rival, the Baker Street detective Sheerluck Finch.

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The Exploits of Three-Fingered Kate was released in October 1909 and its success spawned a further six episodes over the next three years. Sadly only one of these, 'Kate Purloins the Wedding Presents' (1912), survives. Kate was played by the French actress Ivy Martinek, who began her career as a circus performer in her childhood and was no stranger to danger: she sustained injuries atop a stampeding elephant, tied to a speeding sled and caught in a whirlpool. Ivy's brother, H.O. Martinek, directed most episodes. The series was to be the first of many such crime and adventure series and serials produced by B&C (British & Colonial Kinematograph Co.) including the better known and longer running Lieutenant Daring (1911-14).

Three-Fingered Kate anticipates the more famous American serial melodramas with female protagonists, such as The Exploits of Elaine and The Perils of Pauline (both 1914). However, while the protagonists of these films were victims, who found themselves in outlandish danger at the end of each episode - only to be rescued at the start of the next - Kate is an arch-criminal and mistress of her own destiny. Indeed we frequently see Kate and her sister, Mary, smoking cigarettes, a deliberate flaunting of social etiquette that is evidence of their outsider status.

Unlike the American serials, Three-Fingered Kate adopts a surprisingly modern, parodic approach to its crime story. Lacking the deductive abilities of his near-namesake Sherlock Holmes, the less gifted Sheerluck Finch is forced to rely on good fortune, and is constantly outwitted by his savvy female nemesis. In 'Kate Purloins the Wedding Presents', Kate gleefully rubs salt in the wound: having committed her robbery, "out of sheer bravado" she leaves an alarm clock and a note confessing to the deed in the room Sheerluck is guarding.

The reasons why Kate is lacking the last two digits of her right hand are - at least from the surviving episode - unclear. However, each episode ends with a final shot, completely extraneous to the story as a whole, in which Kate defiantly raises her mutilated hand to the camera. In 'The Wedding Presents', having committed her robbery she repeats the gesture with her hand turned the other way - a far more vulgar gesture directed at her victims and the forces of order. Kate, then, is a daring, ironic, proto-feminist criminal, far ahead of her time.

Alex Marlow-Mann

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Video Clips
Complete film: 'Kate Purloins the Wedding Presents' (14:44)
Lieutenant Daring and the Plans of the Mine Fields (1912)