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Long Lost Action Movie Starring Harry Houdini to Screen at TCM Classic Film Festival

January 23, 2015 by Mike Barnes

A long lost 1919 silent film starring legendary escape artist and illusionist Harry Houdini has been found and restored and will play at the TCM Classic Film Festival in March, it was announced Friday.

The Grim Game (1919), released by Famous Players-Lasky Corp./Paramount Pictures, features Houdini in one of his few starring roles.

He plays Harvey Hanford, a young man who is framed for murder, escapes from the police and goes after the gang who set him up. Houdini, then about 45, displays his considerable skills as an escape artist and stuntman throughout the 50-minute feature, which also includes a midair collision between two airplanes above Santa Monica that was a real accident caught during filming. At the time, the crash created a great deal of publicity for the movie.

Houdini, a sensation in vaudeville and on world tours, starred in just five movies, all released between 1919 and 1923, according to IMDb. Soon after quitting the movie business, he died of peritonitis in 1926.

Brane Zivkovic, who teaches film and music composition at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, will conduct a live performance of his new score for The Grim Game at the TCM festival, which this year takes place March 26-29 in Hollywood.

Rick Schmidlin discovered, produced and supervised the reconstruction of the film, working on behalf of TCM. His credits include such landmark restorations as The Dickson Experimental Sound Film (1894-95), Greed (1924), London After Midnight (1927), Touch of Evil (1958) and Elvis: That's the Way It Is Special Edition (1970).

Following up on a lead from Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz, owners of The Houdini Museum in Scranton, Pa., Schmidlin last year headed to Brooklyn to visit Larry Weeks, who was believed to have the only known complete copy of The Grim Game.

Weeks, a 95-year-old retired juggler, had obtained the film from the Houdini estate in 1947. Weeks showed Schmidlin two film cans that he thought contained The Grim Game, and after two hours of discussions, Weeks agreed to sell the film for an undisclosed price. (He died soon after the deal.)

NYU stored the film cans inside its on-site vault, and an examination later revealed that the total movie was 5 1/2 reels, not the five that always had been reported. Also discovered were two reels of negative film.

"Nothing was missing," Schmidlin said in a statement. "The film was a complete joy to see. The Grim Game is not just a long lost film from the silent era but a really great and fun film that will surprise and entertain all."

"The discovery, restoration and screening of The Grim Game is the perfect embodiment of the TCM mission to celebrate our cinematic heritage and share it with new audiences," said TCM senior vp programming Charles Tabesh.

The Grim Game also will air on TCM this year (2015).

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