Monday, April 30, 2012

The Grim Game - 1919

Country: United States
Language: English
Director: Irvin Willat
Writers: Arthur B. Reeve (story), John Grey (story), Walter Woods (scenario), Irvin Willat (writer)
Stars: Harry Houdini, Thomas Jefferson and Ann Forrest
Release Date: 12 October 1919 (USA)
Budget: $200,000 (estimated)
Production Co: Paramount Pictures
Sound Mix: Silent
Color: Black and White
Genres: Adventure | Drama
Jailed unjustly for a murder he did not commit, a young man uses his amazing powers of escape to free himself and pursue the actual killers, who hold his fiancée captive.
A five minute excerpt from this film is all that survives, in the George Eastman collection, which is included as an extra on the disc with Haldane of the Secret Service in the recent Kino DVD collection of his films.
There are explanatory titles on it that suggest the clip would be exhibited by itself without the rest of the film. Houdini goes up in an airplane and does a mid-air transfer to the other airplane, after which the two crash. Houdini and the female passenger survive. The closeups of Houdini on the airplane appear to have been done on the ground, and the crash landing must have been staged somehow, or else how would they have happened to have had the camera in the right place? Likewise, one can't imagine they would have put their star and leading lady in danger. It's a nice little clip and certainly more exciting than any single moment from the tedious Haldane film.
The mid-air collision was accidental; the story was revised to incorporate it.
The person jumping from one plane to the other is not Harry Houdini, it was a stuntman named Robert Kennedy (other sources say it was actor/stuntman Monte Blue). When news of the mid-air collision of the planes made headlines, Houdini cheerfully offered a reward to anyone who could prove that it was not him doing the stunts. Of course, he failed to mention that it really wasn't him performing the feat.

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