|This dramatic poster image was created|
from an equally dramatic still photo
This is all going toward a book project, but here are a few interesting nuggets that I'll share now.
Houdini's character name in the original story treatment was Sterling Steel and the paper he works for was called The Star. Come screenplay time, the paper is now The Daily Call and, interestingly, Houdini is just called Harry Houdini throughout the script in both description and dialogue. The name Harvey Hanford doesn't appear until the title card continuity script created after the movie was shot.
Reeve and Grey titled the film The Grim Game from the start, but at one point the alternate title, Circumstantial Evidence, was suggested. Subsequent paperwork scratches out "the", indicating Grim Game was the preferred title. In the original treatment, the villain makes reference to his "grim game" and Mary's career-making newspaper story is titled "Life's Grim Joke." In the script, the villain's grim game line is gone and Mary's story is now called "Tales of the Sunny South."
Houdini style escapes abound in The Grim Game. Houdini escapes handcuffs affixed to his wrists while he sleeps by playful fellow reporters in the Call office; he picks several door locks in the course of the film, and frees himself from heavy shackles and a prison cell. Following the jail escape, he works his way down the side of a tall building using an ever shortening length of flag pole rope. The sequence in which he frees himself from a straitjacket while dangling from a building is absolutely spectacular in its description! I can only imagine what it must be like on film.
Houdini also frees himself from an elaborate bear trap, a sequence that is giving much play in both the treatment and script, yet has been largely forgotten. Maybe that's because the dramatic stills that depict the escape (there are several in the files) have rarely, if ever, been published.
|The Daily Call logo can be spotted|
in a single behind the scenes still
Curiously, the screenplay contains the famous mid-air plane crash written exactly as it occurred by accident in real life. Maybe this is fresh fodder for conspiracy theorists as Scene 418 clearly specifies "miniature planes falling to earth." Hmmm...
From what I experienced reading the script, I'll join the consensus in saying this is Houdini's best film. It's very lively and modern and is not weighed down with the sometimes creaky melodrama of his other films. The premise is pretty outrageous -- ace reporter Houdini frames himself for murder to score a scoop and prove a point about the dangerous of circumstantial evidence and capital punishment (modern indeed). Of course, the "victim" (Mary's rich father) turns up dead and Houdini finds himself facing an ironclad case against him -- created by himself! From the moment he pitches his plan, it's pretty obvious this is going to happen, but waiting for that shoe to drop is part of the fun, and you are entirely sympathetic to Harry's plight. The film is downright Hitchcockian in this regard.
I was also able to examine the equally voluminous file on Houdini's second Paramount feature, Terror Island, but I'll save that for another time.
My thanks to the staff of Motion Picture Academy's Margaret Herrick Library for allowing me the opportunity to finally "see" The Grim Game.
|Houdini's suspended straitjacket escape is a true highlight of The Grim Game|
COMING TOMORROW! A terrific behind-the-scenes photo from The Grim Game from the Arthur Moses Collection.