Monday, July 7, 2014

The Houdini card manipulation movie mystery deepens

Following up on my 4th of July post about the famous footage of Houdini doing card manipulations -- which we discovered was shown in 1926 as a short called, Velvet Fingers -- Tom Interval of Houdini Museum has turned up an intriguing new discovery.

Tom has found this advertisement with suggests this footage might have first appeared as part of a short called Marvel of Motion by Red Seal Pictures. [EDIT: It was actually a series of shorts called Marvels of Motion.] The short featured "startling photographic inventions" including "very remarkable slow-motion pictures of Houdini and his card tricks." It played at New York's Rivoli Theatre in June 1925, a year before Velvet Fingers.


It's very likely this is the same footage, especially as the description of Velvet Fingers also mentions slow motion. It's possible this footage was first created for this Red Seal short and then later extracted on its own as Velvet Fingers. Or maybe Houdini himself shot this footage and licensed it to various film companies for use in their shorts, which means it might have appeared in several different films.

Another tantalizing possibility is that what's contained in Marvel of Motion is footage of Houdini that we have not yet seen.

Another day, another Houdini mystery!

Thank you Tom.

Related:

24 comments:

  1. "Marvels of Motion" was a series, not a single featurette. Note the plural "Marvels". So it's possible that "Velvet Fingers" was folded into the series.

    Red Seal Bookings Increase 2000%

    Red Seal Pictures Corporation, today, at the end of 1925 is able to boast of a wonderful growth since 1924, both in the amount of product being released, and in the number of bookings achieved during the same period. This growth has been accomplished firmly and solidly under president Edwin Miles Fadman's able guidance.

    The previous year Red Seal released but twenty-six featurettes. The present year's schedule calls for one hundred and forty-one reel releases. The year of the twenty-six releases saw only one hundred and fifty theatres booking the Red Seal product. Yet 1925 ends with three thousand houses, all over the country, most of which are first run or very big theatres playing such series as the Marcus 'Animated Hair Cartoons,' 'Ko-Ko Song Car-Tunes,' 'Gems of the Screen,' 'Out Of The Inkwells,' 'Marvels Of Motion,' 'Searchlights,' 'Film Facts, 1 and 'Reelviews.'
    ...
    ...Max Fleischer, producer of 'Ko-Ko Song Car-Tunes,' 'Out Of The Inkwells,' 'Marvels of Motion,'...


    So who's Max Fleischer? The inventory of "follow the bouncing ball" sing-alongs.

    More on "Marvels of Motion":
    "Marvels of Motion"

    Red Seal

    1 reel

    This edition of the series made by the Fleisher-Novagraph Process embraces stunts of Jiu Jitsu, Apache dancing and swimming at Columbia in the normal, slow and stop processes. Interesting titling and the varied motions help make this a thoroughly entertaining one-reeler.

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    1. Hi David. Thanks for your thoughts on this. The Internet Archive is where I originally found the two advertisements. A day or two ago I also found a video on YouTube featuring Red Seal/Fleischer Inklings (1925) and a Ko-Ko Song Car-Tune (1924): http://youtu.be/LQQvsBoofug. The Marvels of Motion clip you posted below is interesting. It even mentions Houdini (when the dog is jumping through the hoop: "Houdini has nothing on me."). I wish I had more time to research this. Clearly, there's a lot more info and possibly footage out there waiting for us to find.

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    2. Thanks David. Great work. Odd that this ad used the singular "Marvel."

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    3. Oh, I think the ad just used "a Marvel of Motion" to mean "an issue of Marvels of Motion". No biggie.

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    4. Yeah, I think you're right about that. I made an edit with a correction to that title and the fact that it was a series.

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    1. Great to see one of these. Thanks.

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  3. According to this overview of items shown at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival in 1999, only one "Marvels of Motion" survives. The item references 1926, so I'm not sure whether that means that the item in my previous link is actually from 1926, or that there's a different (second!) surviving one from 1926, or simply that the series started in 1926:

    MARVELS OF MOTION Issue J (1926), the only surviving episode in the series, produced by Max and Dave Fleischer for Inkwell Films. The Fleischer brothers are particularly remembered for the cartoons they produced featuring Betty Boop and Popeye the Sailor. The Marvels of Motion series used reverse photography, freeze frames, and a special slow-motion process developed by the Novagraph Company to explore aspects of movement.

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    1. So Red Seal Pictures is out by 1926 and these are now being made, or at least distributed, by Inkwell Films.

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    2. According to this, The Fleischer brothers also partnered with Lee DeForest, Edwin Miles Fadiman, and Hugo Riesenfeld to form Red Seal Pictures Corporation, which owned 36 theaters on the East Coast, extending as far west as Cleveland, Ohio.
      ...
      by late 1926, both the DeForest Phonofilm Corp. and Red Seal Pictures had filed for bankruptcy
      . And according to this, Fleischer "continued in the series [of Inkwell features], serving as actor, producer, writer, and animator for his studio Out of the Inkwell Films, Inc.,"

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    3. Awesome. Thanks.

      Maybe during all this their Houdini footage got away from them and "magically" appeared as the Pathe short.

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  4. Further complicating the question, Pathé released a feature serial called _Velvet Fingers_ in 1920.

    Does it seem likely that Pathé would reuse the title of its prominent serial from the 1919/1920 season as the title of a featurette a few years later? The relationship between the Houdini clip, this serial, and the "motion" series seems clouded by assumptions.

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    1. I mentioned that feature in my first post. I wouldn't worry about that too much at this point. It's just a title. And 6 years could have been a long time in the silent era.

      And I'm just trying to throw out possibilities based on what we have. I don't mean to cloud with assumptions.

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    2. I guess another way to look at it is that they might have named the Houdini short "Velvet Fingers" because of (not in spite of) the already existing serial.

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    3. That very well could be. I also think theaters might have sometimes titled (or re-titled) things themselves. Remember THIS?

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  5. Ive seen much more of this film than whats shown on youtube but dont know where Ive seen it. Ive seen Houdini spread the cards over his forearm, "roll" the cards like a domino effect and then toss them off his arm and catch them with the other hand. If all this survives...somewhere.....its a good bet it all survives....the question is where? Perry from NJ.

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    1. I said in my other post that I believe the most complete footage is on The Miracle Factory's DVD set "Vintage Magic Films". Unfortunately, I don't have that set.

      But I think the arm toss is in one of the HH docs. When I have time I'll search.

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  6. According to _1000 and One: The Blue Book of Non-Theatrical Films_ (Chicago: Educational Screen, 1935), there were 13 one-reel issues in the "Marvels of Motion" series.

    According to _Wid's Film and Film Folks_ of 1925, all 13 of them already existed by 1925.

    They were lettered, probably A - M. I wonder which one included Houdini!

    (Sorry for having posted these serially as I found them-- the blogging software doesn't allow edits.)

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    1. Ah, then it could be Inkwell Films bought the series from Red Seal in '26 and re-released them?

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    2. Max Fleischman apparently is Red Seal (which went belly up) and is Inkwell (though the latter was under Paramount for a while in the 20s.

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    3. Cool. Thanks for the clarification.

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    4. You know, the real story here might be the fact that the great Max Fleischman was behind this footage. That's a cool connection that has never been revealed.

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  7. John, thanks for sharing! Hopefully we'll find more in the near future.

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    1. Thanks for letting me share your find here, Tom. Sorry I didn't have time to dig down any deeper. But it looks like David is doing a great job of that here. :)

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