Follow the man behind the magic as he finds fame, engages in espionage, battles spiritualists and encounters the greatest names of the era, from U.S. presidents to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Grigori Rasputin.
Jailed unjustly for a murder he did not commit, a young man uses his amazing powers of escape to free himself and pursue the actual killers, who hold his fiancée captive. Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
Harry Houdini reminds me of Jackie Chan. Both of them starred in action movies with implausible plotlines which were basically excuses to string together a series of stunts designed to showcase the star's particular talents: in Houdini's case, his incredible physical stamina and his ability to escape from all sorts of restraints. The plot of "The Grim Game" is basically a long string of stunts, but Houdini performs them with panache, and modern audiences will enjoy this film. The story is written primarily by Arthur B. Reeve, creator of the scientific detective Craig Kennedy (who was parodied by Douglas Fairbanks as "Coke Ennyday").
Harry Houdini stars as Harvey Hanford (same initials) who is engaged to marry Mary Cameron (Ann Forest). When Mary's guardian is murdered, Houdini is framed for the crime and sent to prison. He escapes (of course!) and then goes after the villains, but they keep chaining him up or imprisoning them, and of course Houdini keeps right on escaping. At one point they leave him hanging upside-down in a straitjacket off the roof of a skyscraper. No problem, and Houdini is home free before the villains can take the elevator back to street level.
At the film's climax, the boss villain abducts Mary (of course) and flies away with her in a rickety biplane, which was a state-of-the-art aircraft when this film was made in 1919. Houdini jumps into another aeroplane and takes off in pursuit. The two 'planes crash in midair (nice photography here), but Houdini and his girlfriend get back to the ground in one piece... or rather, in one piece apiece.
The entire film is thrilling but largely implausible. Houdini's feats are genuine, but the stunts are clearly designed to play to Houdini's strengths rather than realistic situations. The airborne climax takes advantage of the fact that, in real life, Houdini was a skilled aviator. (He was the first person ever to fly an aircraft in Australia.)
"The Grim Game" is enjoyable, and parts of it are fast-moving, but don't look for a logical storyline. (The villains have no qualms about committing murder, so why don't they just kill Houdini instead of always chaining him up?) In the best sense of the term, this movie is escapist entertainment.
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