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  Harry Houdini.
Photograph: courtesy Kino Lorber.
The Grim Game
(1919) American
B&W : Five reels
Directed by Irvin Willat

Cast: Harry Houdini [Harvey Hanford], Thomas Jefferson [Dudley Cameron], Ann Forrest [Mary Cameron], Augustus Phillips [Clifton Allison], Tully Marshall [Richard Raver], Arthur Hoyt [Doctor Harvey Tyson], Mae Busch [Ethel Delmead], Ed Martin [police reporter], Jane Wolf [?] (Jane Wolfe)? [Hannah]

Famous Players-Lasky Corporation production; distributed by Famous Players-Lasky Corporation [A Paramount-Artcraft Picture]. / Produced by Jesse L. Lasky. Scenario by Walter Woods, from a screen story by Arthur B. Reeve and John W. Gray. Art direction by Harold G. Oliver. Assistant director, Roy H. Marshall. Cinematography by J.O. Taylor and Frank M. Blount. Presented by Jesse L. Lasky. / © 16 September 1919 by Famous Players-Lasky Corporation [LP14193]. Premiered [?] 25 August 1919? at the Broadway Theatre, New York, New York. Released 12 October 1919. / Standard 35mm spherical 1.33:1 format.


Synopsis: [Moving Picture World, 6 December 1919, page ?] Harvey Hanford, the part played by Houdini in The Grim Game, is a special writer on The Call, who is noted for his nerve and daring in gathering news. He has an eccentric millionaire uncle who lives with his ward, Mary, and will not let Harvey come near him. The old man knows that his nephew and his ward are in love with each other, and is opposed to the match. He is also aware that he is surrounded by three men, any one of whom would profit by his death. The first is his lawyer, Richard Raver, who has misappropriated some of the Cameron funds. The second is Dr. Tyson, his physician, who expects to marry Mary, heiress to the Cameron millions, when their owner dies, Clifton Allison, owner and publisher of The Call, is heavily in debt to Cameron, and the old man has threatened several times to drive him to the wall. / A plan is hit upon by Harvey to work up a big sensation for the paper by getting the old man away secretly and then making it look as if he (Harvey) had murdered his uncle. After he has been convicted of the crime, Dudley Cameron will be brought back and circumstantial evidence will be given a heavy blow. The three men agree to this, but each one is determined that the old millionaire shall never return home alive. / The scheme is set in motion and Harvey is arrested for the murder of his uncle. Then commences a series of Houdini escapes, the last one being a genuine thrill and the most dangerous of the Handcuff King’s career. / While trying to change in midair from one flying machine to another, the two airplanes crash into each other. This, of course, is an accident, but the camera caught it and also the dive to earth of the machines which followed. None of the actors in the accident were seriously hurt, and The Grim Game is able to show on the screen an “escape” that is a thriller of thrillers. The story is brought to a highly satisfactory close, and Harvey and Mary are united.

Reviews: [From Exhibitors Trade Review] There are more spectacular thrills in this five-reeler than are usually found in the average death-defying, hair-raising serial, and the exciting results thus gained are not due to trick photography, either. Take, for instance, the aeroplane chase in the grand climax, when Houdini, as the reporter hero, pursues the fleeing murderer. The two machines crash together at an altitude of 5,000 feet, and go whirling to earth and apparently certain destruction. / According to an address delivered by Houdini himself, when the picture was exhibited at the Broadway Theatre, New York, it was his intention to drop by means of a rope into his antagonist’s plane and capture him, but the two propellors became entangled.

Survival status: Prints exist in New York University’s preservation and conservation department (Larry Weeks collection) [35mm nitrate positive]; and in the George Eastman Museum film archive [35mm positive (five-minute fragment)].

Current rights holder: Public domain.

Keywords: Crime - Millionaires - Transportation: Airplanes - Wards

Listing updated: 26 March 2015.

References: Everson-American pp. 109, 110; Lahue-Gentlemen p. 135 : Website-AFI.

Home video: DVD.

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