Friday, January 30, 2015

Now let's worry about Terror Island


Now that The Grim Game is safe, restored, and will return to the big and small screen in March (huzzah!), it's time to turn our attentions to another Houdini movie rescue mission, restoring his second Paramount-Lasky feature, Terror Island (1920).

While Terror Island has been available on VHS and DVD since the late 1990s, that version is incomplete. That's because the only know print of the film, housed in the Library of Congress, is missing two reels, resulting in a runtime of only 55 minutes.

Disclaimer at the start of the current version of Terror Island.

Unfortunately, and maybe not coincidentally, those missing reels contain the movie's two best escapes. The first features Houdini, as Harry Harper, escaping from a burning dockyard warehouse after being chained to a chair by the villains. Stills from this sequence survive, but not a single second of film footage. Houdini/Harper later hides in a packing crate -- only to be discovered by the villains who hammer shut the lid and throw it into the bay with predictable results. No photos of this scene survive, hence, it's not generally known that Terror Island even contains an overboard box escape (an iconic Houdini escape not featured in The Grim Game).

Harper then returns home where he's vamped by actress Rosemary Theby. A well known still of this scene survives, although it's sometimes misidentified as being another Houdini film. Harper then sets out to save Beverly in his super submarine, saving her from a sown sack underwater in the process.

All of this is missing from the existing print.

Two of several missing scenes from Terror Island.

Another issue is with the title and dialog cards. The Library of Congress print is from a later Realart re-release of the film, so the original 1920 Lasky-Paramount cards have all been replaced. Now that we've gotten a peak at how spectacular the original title card for The Grim Game looks, one can only imagine what the studio did for Terror Island.

Realart title card is not original.

Unfortunately, restoring Terror Island could prove to be a bigger challenge than The Grim Game. In the case of The Grim Game, we knew at least one print survived in a private collection, so there was always hope. But with Terror Island, it's unclear if these missing elements exist anywhere at all. Might there be no hope for Terror Island?

If anyone happens to have a lead on those missing reels, or if anyone knows of more complete print out there, shoot me an email or leave a comment below.

Let's find Terror Island!

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32 comments:

  1. Dear John;

    You just gave us another project to add to our bucket list.

    I believe there are also missing scenes to Master Mystery.

    Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz
    The Houdini Museum Scranton, PA
    The Only Building in the World Totally Devoted to Houdini

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    1. Forgot to mention Dick is on the Travel Channel's Mysteries At The Museum today at 6 PM EST

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    2. It's a repeat of this episode, correct? Not a new appearance?

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    3. Correct on The Master Mystery. In fact, I would most like to see a restored Master Mystery and those elements DO exist out there somewhere. Pat Culliton has seen a complete MM.

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  2. I agree. It would be awesome to “Salvage” the missing footage of Terror Island.

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    1. Ha! Beautiful. "Let's 'Salvage' Terror Island." That should have been my headline. :)

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  3. Should have given more details but we write enough here. It is the "Houdini& Doyle" show. This is the forth time in as many months. The great thing about being on this program, as we have several times already, is they repeat it again and again. Anyone who wants to eventually gets a chance to see it. The other day someone recognized me in the supermarket that saw the show. Dorothy was once recognized by a total stranger in NY's Central Park East by a total stranger soon after such an appearance.

    Dick Brookz and Dorothy Dietrich
    Houdini Museum
    Scranton PA

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    1. That's awesome. :) That's an advantage of doing one of these shows is they repeat forever. I can always tell when one of the Houdini episodes of Pawn Stars repeats. I'll get a rush of traffic searching for info on the featured item.

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  4. has anyone tried to paste in some of the missing Master Mystery clips that the BBC or anyone else showed back into a Master Mystery dub somewhere to make it more complete?
    D&D

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    1. That has not happened. But the BBC footage would provide us with very little. I think the only thing I've seen loose in BBC footage are parts of an overboard box escape. The real path is to find the print that Pat Culliton saw many years ago. The print was complete or almost complete.

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  5. From what we gather no one current has ever seen the two missing Terror Island reels. Is that so?

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    1. Not that I know of. But it possible someone out there has seen the complete film or has info on the missing reels.

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  6. I can tell you that the two missing reels are the second and third longest of the 7 reels and comprise almost one third of the movie.

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    1. Joe, do you know the original runtime of Terror Island? I don't have that info.

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  7. john;
    As we recall you have the terror island pressbokk. Us the runtime listed in there?

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  8. The short answer is No. The press book cover implies it is not a serial but a smashing melodrama in Six Acts. However, I have seen the original script and it was 7 acts. Most of the ads imply that it was six reels and some say 5. However, documentation at the Margaret Herrick Library gave the length of each of the 7 reels, which ads up 5939 feet, which just based on the feet, you would think that was 6 reels. I compared the Kino DVD running time of 5 reels at 55 minutes to the footage per reel and based on my rough calculations we are missing about 25 minutes played at modern speeds; I believe the original 35mm film may have played at a faster rate.

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    1. They actually played at a slower speed back then. I think silent films played at 16 fps as opposed to today's 24 fps. That's why silent films appear to be speed up -- it's because they are playing at the wrong frame rate. Although today the frame rate is corrected on most releases. All of Houdini's films have corrected frame rate.

      I feel like the run time must be somewhere in the Academy Library file. Reviews also sometime included the run time.

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    2. The library lists 5939 feet and many reviews list it at 5813 ft. If we use 5813 ft and 16fps then that is 96.88 minutes. If you use 24fps then that is 64.59 minutes in length. Based on the existing footage and knowing what is in the missing reels, neither one seems right to me. Of course, TI may have experienced many cuts.

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  9. I have studied the TI file with emphasis on the two missing reels and don’t recall the run-time specified anywhere. In addition to listing each reel in feet, they do list each scene and title in seconds, but when you add up the seconds for each reel, they come up on the high end most likely due to rounding to the nearest .5 second. John - sometime I need to share my notes on TGG and TI from the library with you; I have a fair amount of data.

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    1. That would be great! I only briefly went through the TI file. When I was there, I was concentrating on GG. Heck, we should go there together some time.

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    2. Sounds like a plan, I haven't been there since 2013.

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  10. Did Larry Weeks have other never before seen film clips of Houdini aside from the Grim Game? I am always hopefull that a film clip will surface of Houdini actually performing on stage.

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    1. Yes, he did have other film footage. A lot of it shows up today in documentaries. I do know of a few filmed gems that still haven't been widely seen, but nothing of him on stage.

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  11. Also missing from most Master Mystery compilations, we believe, is Houdini hanging over a vat of boiling acid which pops up from time to time. It has not been added to any Master Mystery compilations as far as we know and it is a good one. It can be seen on the KINO three dvd set only in the censors notes, oddly enough.

    Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz
    The Houdini Museum
    Scranton, PA
    The Only Building in the World Totally Devoted to Houdini

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    1. Indeed, the acid vat isn't in MM, but it is an extra on the Kino DVD.

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  12. Where did the vat scene come from?
    Where did the complete Master Mystery Pat Culliton saw come from?

    Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz
    The Houdini Museum
    Scranton, PA
    The Only Building in the World Totally Devoted to Houdini

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    1. Patrick wrote HERE: "Probably the man responsible for scattering so many elements of The Master Mystery to the four winds was Ray Rohauer, who can also be thanked for removing three chapters out of the 15 chapter Serial, and losing them."

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  13. We knew about that. It did not make clear it was the very same one that was cut up.

    That still leaves the vat scene. Was that from the BBC? Does William Mcilhany have any clues on these missing reels and segments?

    Is there anyone around who saw Terror Island with the two missing reels?

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    1. I believe the BBC footage (as seen in The Truth About Houdini) came from Larry Weeks. Do you know what Larry had besides GG? Heck, maybe he had the missing TI reels?

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  14. I did see the entire 15 chapter Master Mystery twice at John Hampton's Silent Movie Theatre. I can't believe that it was the only existing print, but, now I"m afraid that it was. There were two big stunts in each chapter. Now the twelve surviving chapters don't contain half of those stunts. Certain stunts that were in mid-chapter have been shifted to be cliff hangers at the ends of chapters. One great sequence showed Houdini in close-up behind the lock of a cell. There is a title card that says something like "Quentin Locke uses his mysterious power" and the front of the lock dissolves so that we can see inside the lock. As Locke concentrates, the lock rotates three times, each time pushing back the bolt until the lock is open. My brother also saw the entire Master Mystery. If what we have now is all we are ever going to see, it is a tragedy as great as losing the Grim Game would have been.

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    1. Yeah, it kills me that we don't have The Mastery Mystery complete. To see that would be another dream come true.

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