The second of master escape artist and magician Harry Houdini’s five silent films, and the first of two made for Paramount, has long been unavailable to the public as Paramount had only one five-minute sequence featuring a midair plane collision. Thanks to a print held by longtime Houdini fan Larry Weeks, however, Festival audiences can catch the restoration of the complete film. Originally titled Circumstantial Evidence, The Grim Game casts Houdini as a newspaper reporter who fakes his uncle’s murder so he can be convicted of it, only to have villains kill the man and kidnap the reporter’s news hen fiancée. Of course, it’s all a pretext for a series of daredevil escapes, from Houdini’s breaking out of prison to his getting out of a straitjacket suspended from the top of a skyscraper. The plane crash was an accident during filming that the producers decided to incorporate within the plot. Fortunately, both flyers were able to get their planes under control and land safely. At the picture’s premiere, Houdini offered a $1,000 reward to anybody who could prove the collision had been faked. He also claimed to have been flying one of the planes, something studio records disprove. In fact, all of the shots of him midair are clearly studio shots cut into the real aerial footage.
—TCM Classic Film Festival
The restoration by Rick Schmidlin had its world premiere as the closing night film of the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival in Los Angeles last March.
1919, USA, Directed by Irvin Willat, Cast: Harry Houdini, Ann Forrest, Augustus Phillips, Tully Marshall, Arthur Hoyt
Introduced by the film's restorer, Rick Schmidlin
Co-presented by EatDrinkFilms and the Exploratorium
ASL interpretation provided