October 22, 2015

The Grim Game.

Review #749: The Grim Game.

Harry Houdini  (Harvey Hanford), Thomas Jefferson (Dudley Cameron), Ann Forrest (Mary Cameron), Augustus Phillips (Clifton Allison), Tully Marshall (Richard Raver), Arthur Hoyt (Dr. Harvey Tyson), and Mae Busch (Ethel Delmead) Directed by Irvin Willat.

Ah 1919, where the word spendthrift can be used, and cities (like mine) can be formed (and named) after a land company. Before I get to the film, let me talk a little about the history of the film in the next paragraph.

The Grim Game was Harry Houdini's first feature-length film (though the serial The Master Mystery was released in early 1919) and Houdini would star in films until 1923. Houdini (an expert magician who also debunked spiritualists) died on Halloween Night in 1926, though his legend still shines through today. As for the movie, it also has an interesting story of its own. This film had been considered lost for over 90 years. As it turned out, Larry Weeks, who considered himself Houdini's biggest fan, had a copy of the film in his collection after claiming it from the Houdini estate in 1947. Through the help of film scholars, TCM and the owners of the Houdini Museum and some negotiating, the film was acquired by TCM. A restoration and a new score were done, and TCM showed it as part of their Film Festival on March 29, 2015, with the world television premiere being just this Sunday night.

After all that history, how is the film? Not too bad. For an adventure-drama, it does have its shares of thrills, especially due to Houdini. You get to see him escape from chains and even a straight-jacket, and at one point he even manages to make a gun come out of his sleeves, which surprised me. The "Grim Game" turns out to be a plan hatched by Houdini's character to get his paper that he reports from to survive...by framing himself for the disappearance of his uncle, all by circumstantial evidence. He actually enlists the help of five people (including his fiance) to get this plan done, which includes taking the uncle out for a while to make it seem like he has disappeared. But it goes wrong (naturally), as the uncle is actually killed...by someone. It turns out to be the one person I didn't expect, mainly because I assumed that the one that would get to marry the heiress to the uncle's fortune did it...that, and because he wants to put Houdini in the asylum. But it's not, which I guess makes it less predictable...either way, the movie is at least entertaining, though it does take a while to get to the aforementioned grim game. The climax of the movie is entertaining...because you get to see a mid-air plane collision! Naturally, everyone (real life and plot life) is okay, but getting to see the climax in the air is very well-done. The movie (running at 71 minutes) is well paced, while also showing off some of Houdini's talents.

Countdown to #750: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

Overall, I give it 8 out of 10 stars.

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