Monday, March 30, 2015

TCM Festival screens 35mm print of Houdini (1953)

Yesterday was "Houdini Day" in Los Angeles (literally), which saw screenings of his restored silent film The Grim Game and the Tony Curtis classic Houdini (1953) at the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood. I will be working on my Grim Game report all day and hope to have it up tomorrow or later in the week. Let me just say that the film is every bit as good as has always been rumored, and even better in some regards. It's far and away Houdini's best film, and the whole evening was magical. Frankly, I'm still feeling overwhelmed. So, for now, I thought I'd report on the screening of the Curtis film, which happened earlier in the day and was, in it's own way, historic.

Houdini screened at the Chinese Multiplex 6, which is a newer complex of theaters adjacent to the famous Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood. My good friend and Houdini collector Mark Willoughby had arranged two reserved seats. (Thank you again, Mark!) The screening began at 4:45pm, and after a quick lunch and a margarita, we were ready for some magic.

Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz, who came to town to help introduce The Grim Game, also introduced Houdini. Dorothy performed a straitjacket escape, which went over wonderfully well with the audience. They have been doing this escape for years and the have honed it beautifully. Dorothy received a standing ovation. They also shared the official "Houdini Day" proclamation from the City of Los Angeles.


It was then movie time, and the biggest surprise for me -- even shock! -- was that the festival screened an original 35mm print of the movie. All other Houdini screening I've attended have always projected the DVD. I didn't even think a 35mm print of Houdini still existed. The print came from the Paramount Archive and was arranged by Rick Schmidlin who organized the TCM screening (Rick is also the Restoration Producer of The Grim Game).

While some restoration work had been done to prepare the print for projection, it's still in pretty bad shape. The color had either faded badly, or maybe we've just become accustomed to the eye-popping Technicolor of the DVD and Blu-ray, and this is what the movie really looked like back in the day? It was dirty, dull, scratch and dirt filled...and glorious! I'll take this authentic piece of cinema history over a perfect modern digital reproduction any day. Had I known we were going to see a film print, I would have brought a note pad so I could record the number of reels and where the reel breaks in the movie occur. Not sure I'll ever get this chance again.

As always, the movie played wonderfully well with a live audience. After the screening, a woman told me she saw the movie as a child and came to see if it was as good as she remembered. It was.

After Houdini, I headed down a packed Hollywood Blvd toward the Egyptian Theater where the real Houdini would soon appear. I will get back to working on my report about that momentous screening event now, so...

To be continued.

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14 comments:

  1. I've only checked about 2 dozen times for your review........And I imagine a LOT of other Houdini fans are anxious to hear too. So take your time, no rush....(OK RUSH) Looking forward to your insight!!! I know your thoughts and observations will be well worth the wait! :)

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    1. Yeah, I wanted to put something up because I figured people would be eager for some reaction. I have so many thoughts and feelings about the film and experience. I've roughed out some thoughts, but it all needs to settle and take form. Also, I'm exhausted. This has been a very full week. Brain and body at half strenght. I just took a 3 hour nap. :)

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  2. It was GREAT to finally see the 1953 film HOUDINI on the big screen in true 35mm format. Glad we got to see it together. (Finally figured this out)

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  3. I took a handbill of an old time escape artist in to get framed. The clerk told me that as a young girl she had seen the Curtis Houdini movie on its release, and the theater had a magician escape from a straightjacket above the marquee.

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    1. That's great. I'd love to learn more about what kind of Houdini tie-in ballyhoo Paramount did for the film.

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  4. Can't wait to read your full account of the Grim Game John!

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  5. There was something magical and special about the splices, dirt, dust, and emulsion scratches of 35mm film. Digital film is just too pristine and the colors aren't quite as rich as 35mm film. The old, dirty print experience has now become a faded relic of the past.

    By the way, how did the actual print of the Grim Game look? Was it shown on a digital format or 35mm print?

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    1. The Grim Game was a DCP - digital. Although it still shows some of the wear and tear of the old print. Even the Nitrate damage.

      I enjoyed seeing the wear and tear on this Houdini print, but for new movies, I prefer digital. I'm a convert.

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  6. I look forward to your Grim Game recap (it was darn good, wasn't it?) -- especially your take on the score.

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    1. It was darn great! And, yes, I'll cover my thoughts on the music.

      Hoping to get it up today.

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  7. Looks like nobody has a Grim Game review posted yet. After waiting so very long (decades) for this, i think everyone is still in shock. i sure am.

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    1. I was still overwhelmed yesterday, and pretty darn exhausted! But I've been able to gather myself and my thoughts. Report and review HERE.

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