Atlas Obscura is fascinating blog. Recently they examined the common belief that old silent movies used to show women put in peril by being tied to railroad tracks by villains. Turns out it never happened — except in parody.
This sort of train-based peril became a regular element of the melodramas as a cheap and easy way to create suspense. Moving into the early-20th century, and the silent film era, many films took their cues from those same 19th-century stage dramas. One of the more famous examples of this type of story was the serial The Perils of Pauline, which saw the titular heroine encounter all kinds of scoundrels and villains each week, who would put her in life-threatening danger—although it is important to note that she was never tied to the railroad tracks. This sort of overblown adventure tale became a well-known story type in its time, but that melodramatic style also inspired some comedies, which spoofed some of the more overused elements of the genre.
Read it all here.