Twelve-year-old Darleen Darling, otherwise known as “Daring Darleen” to her many fans, is no stranger to doing silly or stupid things. She’s been doing them in front of a moving-picture camera for pretty much as long as she can remember. She’ll be hanging from a cliff by her fingertips or dangling by one foot from a hot air balloon at any given moment. And with the number of movie houses and flickers growing by the day in 1914, that’s made her something of a silent movie star.
Well, not exactly a movie star, since her The Dangers of Darleen episodes are really just a series of shorts that run before or after the actual movie. But people sure recognize her a lot when she’s here and there.
Folks who don’t know better would gush that her life is exciting and incredible. But the fact is, her day-to-day has become a fairly regular routine at Matchless, the struggling film company that her family runs and owns in Fort Lee, New Jersey. In truth, their business is really pretty small potatoes But people sure do love her weekly celluloid adventure serials. They’re what’s keeping Matchless afloat.
That fact is what gives Darleen’s Aunt Shirley a big idea. There’s a new, massive Manhattan theater holding an opening-night celebration soon. And they’ll be running a Dangers of Darleen short. Why not capitalize on that by setting up a fun publicity stunt, Aunt Shirley muses. They could set up a camera out front and stage a fake kidnapping of Darleen on the spot. And then put it in the next short. Why, if it’s handled well—and that kind of publicity is Aunt Shirley’s bread and butter—it could be the means to wiping out all of the filmmaking family’s debts.
There’s only one problem. After warning the police of their stunt, setting up the camera and timing everything just right, something goes terribly wrong. Darleen hits all her marks and plays her role perfectly, but she gets caught up in a very real kidnapping in the sparkling movie theater’s entryway. In the process of grabbing a newly orphaned heiress, Victorine Berryman, real-but-none-too-smart thugs end up grabbing Darleen, too, and throwing her in their car.
Since Darleen and Victorine are the same age and look so similar, the dummy do-badders aren’t sure which is which. Darleen can’t believe it. This is just like some crazy adventure serial that her Uncle Charlie might dream up. Only the dangerous-looking bad guys aren’t just extras driving too fast in a growling sedan. This is real and scary.
“Oh, do be cautious! I’m afraid they’re dangerous, desperate men,” the frightened Victorine whispers. And all Darleen can think is that getting out of this situation might not be as easy as dangling from a rocky cliff by her fingertips.