Emilie Sannom was an actor, stunt performer, and pioneer of Danish “Sensationsfilm” of the 1910s, a popular genre of gender-defiant action films that flourished in the midst of World War I.
Death was in the air and Sannom’s cinema was populated by thieves, spies, detectives, morphine addicts, killer snakes, exploding windmills, submarines, and parachute escapes. She acted in the earliest films written by Carl Theodor Dreyer, including The Leap to Death (1912) and Balloneksplosionen (1913), and her starring roles in serialized films such as Nattens Datter (Daughter of Darkness) I-IV (1915–1917) and Panopta I-IV (1918–1919) inspired comparisons with her French contemporary, Musidora, star of Louis Feuillade’s serialized Les Vampires (1915).
Sannom was oblivious to physical risk and designed and performed her own perilous stunts. She rapelled from clock towers, walked tightropes, raced motorcycles, and was tied to spinning water wheels and turbine blades. In her final film, La Fanciulla dell’aria (1923), she hung upside-down from an airplane in flight.
In 1931 Emilie Sannom died in front of an audiene of 8,000 people when her parachute failed to open during a skydiving performance. She was 44 years old.