Like all magic enthusiasts, we have seen the movie poster for The Grim Game and perhaps some stills or clips but never the entire film.
In fact, we were speaking with Magic Castle Librarian Lisa Cousins just a couple of weeks ago and she shared a rumor that the only remaining print might become available in the near future. She, like the Oracle at Delphi, offered nothing more; indicating but not revealing.
We are loyal TCM watchers and love learning about movies – and surprisingly do not miss the constant commercial interruptions that accompany films shown on other networks – and cannot wait to learn more about TCM’s involvement in this project.
Houdini produced this film in 1919 and stars as Harvey Hanford (see how the character’s initials are HH just like Houdini’s — we don’t think that is a coincidence), a young man framed for murder. Houdini was apparently not afraid of being type-cast as an athletic escape artist as the movie shows him escaping, leaping, fighting and other daring do. TCM relates that the film captures a mid-air collision between two airplanes that was a real accident caught on film. The filmmakers used the amazing footage in the story. We read somewhere that Houdini claimed to have been on one of the two planes even though he was safely on the ground at the time of the incident.
Surprisingly, there was only one surviving complete copy of the film, owned by Larry Weeks, a 95-year-old retired juggler. Mr. Weeks got the film from the Houdini estate in 1947 and was never willing to sell it.
“Harry Houdini is an compelling cultural icon, but most people don’t know about his movie career,” said Charles Tabesh, SVP Programming at TCM. “He made several films, but The Grim Game was his first feature, considered his best. It’s fascinating to see Houdini as an actor. It’s really fun to watch [the film] that even the most hardcore fans haven’t had a chance to see.”
TCM will screen the film in Hollywood and has booked composer Brane Zivkovic to conduct a live performance of his new score written just for the movie. TCM will air the restored classic on its channel later this year.