Sunday, October 18, 2015

Tonight on TCM: THE GRIM GAME

UPDATE: Please share your reactions to last night's screening(s) in the Comments below.

This time last year it was inconceivable that we would all be gathering around our television sets to watch The Grim Game, a film many Houdini fans feared they would never see. But now we are only hours away from enjoying Houdini's best film work. The Grim Game is here!


The Grim Game will air on TCM at 8:00 PM (ET)/6:00 PM (PT) and again at 11:45 PM (ET)/8:45 PM (PT). The first showing will feature the original ensemble musical score by Brane Živkovic. A second airing will feature the new piano score by Steve Sterner.

To mark the occasion, TCM and magician Michael Carbonaro (The Carbonaro Effect) will be live tweeting throughout the day, including from my talk on Houdini Among The Spirits at the Center for Inquiry in Hollywood. The hashtag is #HoudiniEffect and I'm embedding the Twitter stream below.

Enjoy the shows!


Related:

57 comments:

  1. Great movie. By far Houdinis best. One question after watching it twice I wonder how much Houdini thought prior to finalizing the scenes in which he escapes from handcuffs? Houdini always escaped from cuffs, chains and locks away from view......either in his ghost house curtained cabinet, a larger curtained cabinet, under water after jumping from a bridge or finally while alone in a jail cell. In the Grim Game these escapes are done more or less in full view. For the knowledgable escape artist this reveals methodology which we could only guess at if not for these sequences.

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    1. Seeing him escape cuffs in the open was a surprise. But he was quick and you couldn't really see anything that I would consider a secret. Interesting to see how many cuffs he slips.

      But recall he did escape cuffs in the open in his 1909 Paris film as well.

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    2. That was very different as the camera was very far away and you could not make out what he was doing. For the escape artist it looks as if he is rapping open one pair while the other stayed on his wrists. The Grim Game it would be very obvious today for any escape artist or magician to realize what was going on.

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  2. I couldn't see much when HH escaped from that first pair of handcuffs, and the assortment of manacles in that prison. He appeared hunched over and struggling in that prison scene. It looked to me like he just slid off that first pair of handcuffs in the newspaper office.

    Brane's score was great but repetitive. It needed at least one more motif to mix it up a bit more. I noticed that the music in the plane transfer sequence was different. The silence in the prison escape seemed appropriate to my ears.

    Overall, I liked it. It was great to see HH in a Hollywood movie. His charisma radiated throughout the picture. A few scenes in the film appeared to have taken a beating. I thought the restoration would have improved the images of the damaged sections of film.

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    1. In regard to the nitrate damage if Larry Weeks had not made a transfer these scenes would have been lost a few years later.In regard to restoration repair the cost would been higher then the
      budget. It is worth seeing the restoration with the nitrate damage as you see the image as was found. because the repair would never have looked great with that nitrate damage.In regard to restoration if you saw the prints when we first screened Sept 20014 timing and image restoration was done to the best of our allowed budget.

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    2. Just wanted to thank you, Mr. Schmidlin, for preserving the film for future generations. As a fairly recent but devoted Houdini fan, getting to see "The Grim Game" has been one of the most exciting events in recent memory. I'm so happy knowing that this will not fall victim to the sad fate that has befallen so many other silent films.

      -Meredith Secaur

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    3. Thanks for commenting, Rick. And congrats! Thanks to your effects, Houdini had his biggest movie audience last night!

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  3. Well.....it was obvious to me what was going on. I would think Harry had many hours of thought as to how he wanted to present these handcuff escapes.

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  4. Just finished watching the film. Wow. I'm actually having a hard time collecting my thoughts right now. Without question Houdini's best film. It's probably the most modern-feeling silent film I've ever seen. The airplane climax was impressive, and how cool was it to see him slip those manacles live? No wonder some people thought he had magical powers!

    -Meredith

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    1. Yes, modern is exactly what I felt as well.

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    2. I was really impressed with the inventive camera-work and effects. I know the technology had been in place for some time, but I haven't seen many films of any age utilize such unusual techniques.

      After thinking it over, I think one of the reasons why the GG is so good is that Houdini, like Douglas Fairbanks, is allowed to have a sense of humor about what he's doing. In contrast to how dead-serious he became in his later films, did you notice the big grin on his face during some of the chases, or the look he gave his captors after being thrown in the jail cell? And that breaking-the-fourth-wall glance at the audience while slipping the handcuffs will go down as one of my top ten movie moments. I believe I actually got chills.

      -Meredith

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    3. Absolutely! It's really is the movie where you most sense his charm and charisma. And as I wrote in my review after the Hollywood premiere, it's the only movie in which he plays an ordinary person and an underdog. Make you root for him. I think that was a key part of his appeal.

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  5. Love Houdini, but that was hard to watch. Its also very obvious the handcuffs were gaffs.It was cool to see a 96 year old movie but wow....

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    1. Try watching The Man From Beyond sometime. The Grim Game is a picnic compared to that one!

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    2. The Grim Game was by far and away Houdinis best film. Obviously professionally produced and well acted. Can't say that regarding his other films unfortunately.

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    3. I think The Man From Beyond was actually the easiest to watch for me until The Grim Game. The Master Mystery had some great stunts but it was overstretched. I think it would have done better as a straight feature.

      -Meredith

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    4. Oh, I LOVE that The Master Mystery goes on and on and on. It's hours and hours of Houdini. I get a bottle of wine and put that baby on...good times. :)

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  6. Will there be any more showings in the future?

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    1. I'm sure there will be. I'll keep watch and let you know.

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    2. Great, unfortunately, although I marked my calendar, I did not get your reminder email until this morning and missed it. :(

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    3. You mean the subscription email Blogger generates? Sorry, but I don't have anything to so with that. It's automatically generated and only carries the previous day's news. That not a good way to get alerts. I have a Twitter and Facebook for that.

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  7. Great movie. Also, nice to see John's name and Wild About Harry in the credits.

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  8. We were not able to watch either showings of Houdini's The Grim Game on TCM. But after we were flooded with phone calls. It seems Mr. Osborne mentioned us in his intro to the film. We would like to thank him. If anyone has a copy of the intro they could send us contact us at 570 342-5555 or magicus@comcast.net

    It is great that the world gets to see some of Houdini's best work. Our guess because of this, more people will see Houdini world wide than saw him in his entire lifetime.

    As Houdini said of his film The Grim Game in the press book for the film;

    "The present generation can see me in person, but I want my most thrilling feats perpetuated on the screen, so people in later years can assure themselves that I actually did them. That's why I have saved the most sensational stunts I have ever done for this picture and have worked my head off to make them as successful as possible."
    -HOUDINI

    Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz
    The Houdini Museum
    The Only Building in the World Dedicated to Houdini

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    1. Yes, he gave you very nice mentions in both his introductions. Congrats! :)

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  9. Curiously, I've experienced no increase in blog traffic. When the Brody miniseries aired, traffic went off the charts.

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    1. Slight amendment to the above -- I am seeing a spike in traffic today.

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  10. The Grim Game was fun to watch. My 10 year old daughter sat with me and I thought she would fall asleep, but she enjoyed every minute of it! I'm glad this piece of history wasn't lost. Congrats to all those involved in the restoration.

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    1. A spectacular and promising image. How wonderful!

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    2. I love that your daughter watched it wth you. Age 10, eh? Watch out! That was the age Houdini hooked me.

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  11. As for the two scores:

    I think Steve's piano score is better for the general viewer. It gives the movie a faster pace and, as we've discussed, Brane score is a touch experimental and repetitive. But I have to admit that Steve's music kinda got on my nerves. It seemed TOO upbeat. However, I was very tired after my long day of giving two Houdini lectures and I felt like I was overloaded. But then I saw a tweet in which someone said the music gave them "anxiety" and I thought, yeah, me too!

    But I need to watch the movie again with Steve's score to make a better judgment. As I said, I do think it works in more traditional way. But I will always love Brane's music because that's what I heard at the premiere in Hollywood, so I will always associate it with the best Houdini experience of my life. :)

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  12. Does anyone know what the true original score was or has it been lost to time?

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    1. The original score appears in The Grim Game press book. Joe Notaro shared it on his site HERE.

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    2. And as far as what scores were like in 1919, I've learned that silent movies DID occassinsaly go completely silent. In fact, Brane's music might be more like what audiences experienced at the time -- a handful of repeated themes. Steve's score sounds more "traditional" because it's the kind of score were are used to hearing played over silent films on TV. So I really shouldn't make judgments based on what is more historically accurate, because I really don't know enough about silent cinema to do so.

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  13. Not quite on topic, John, but what did you think of Gillette's Sherlock Holmes film? While I liked his characterization, I think I ruined it for myself by watching on the heels of the Grim Game. Thoughts?

    -Meredith

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    1. I actually didn't watch it yet. I recorded it and I'm going to watch it tonight. Yesterday was all about Houdini. Tonight is Sherlock. Can't wait.

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  14. Why not use the original score?????

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    1. It's not really an original score. It's a collection of pre-existing music with suggestions where to play. Also, by creating an original score you can copyright what would otherwise be a public domain film (although in this case, the restoration itself is probably copyrightable).

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  15. great nephew of Bess and Harry HoudiniOctober 19, 2015 at 4:44 PM

    what a great movie can not wait to see again. I hope it comes out on dvd.

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    1. Yes! Fingers crossed for that.

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    2. Wouldn't it be great to have the behind-the-scenes footage of Harry and Bess as a special feature?

      -Meredith

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  16. If you look closely Houdini does not "slip" off any of the handcuffs aside from the leg irons that were wrapped around his neck and locked around his arms past his elbows. All others the cuff bows were opened. In the first sequence in the newspaper office you can see him open the cuffs and then lock them again as he escapes. He constantly is moving his hands in an effort to make what he is doing hard to follow.

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  17. A big thank you to Mr. Schmidlin for posting here. So a finer restoration would have cost even more money. I expect too much from CGI technology. In a way, the nitrate damage in the cabin scenes is a record of the history of this print. Given the choice of watching a print with nitrate damage or no Grim Game, it's a no brainer.

    I prefer Brane's score because in spite of the limited themes, it sounded "right" for the film. There was the darker, melodramatic theme, and the lighter, bouncier counterpart.

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    1. Good points. Yeah, as Rick said in our interview, the idea was not to restore the film to better than new condition (that would have cost a great deal more money), the idea was to freeze the film in the condition it was in the 1950s when Larry had it transferred to 16mm. The restoration was about correcting the damage the film had accumulated since then, and also correcting the poor transfer itself -- primarily the registration issues.

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  18. The speed correction it was transfered to 24 FPS by Larry which was the norm in the 50's so no blame. This is why so many silents looked like the actor's moved fast (the funny Keystone Cop effect). When Larry showed the print the speed was 24 fps and of course no sound or if so a record or tape. So after it 1919 release this is how people saw it. It all had bad registration and many scene's like Old Banks washed out. I would say it took Thomas and Metroplis 600 plus hours to get the picture to look as good as you just saw it last night. Also it now runs at the correct speed of 20 fps .

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  19. When the GG premiered in 1919, and for that matter silent films then, what was the frame per second? Isn't 24 FPS still the norm to this day? At least when analog film plays in a theater.

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  20. It was marvelous. As a relatively casual Houdini fan -- a man who had never seen a single Houdini film except the heretfore-only fragment of The Grim Game (the plane climax) on YouTube -- I was amazed at how great a film it was. :-)

    Quick and zippy, too -- the set-up was nice, but then come the escapes, and THOSE were such a treat to see. Not to mention Houdini seeming completely in his element with other, more experienced actors -- Tully Marshall and Augustus Jennings were highlights (I really was not expecting the final twist -- nor for it to be intercut with the plane scene!) -- and Ann Forrest made me wish her career had gone farther.

    I will say that, despite it not being available to him, I wish Larry Weeks had somehow gotten the film transferred to 35mm safety film, rather than 16mm -- I watched part of a 35mm preservation immediately after (The Round-Up), from the same studio (Paramount-Artcraft) and made the year after The Grim Game, even featuring the same titles font -- and it was so damn sharp and clear by comparison.

    But I'm just glad that it exists at all, to be frank. I loved it. I think I'll watch it again tomorrow. :-)

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    1. It is a great shame it wasn't transferred to 35mm, but that would have been expensive. Recall that Larry has to solicit money from Houdini and magic history buffs to get just a 16mm transfer done.

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    2. Which seems almost a travesty --- thus was a historic film on the verge of disintegration. :-(

      I REALLY loved the inventive shots of the three plotters imagining what they'll do to take advantage of Harvey's scheme -- the iris-ins on them performing some action as they imagine their grim revenge on Cameron. I don't think I'd seen a shot as purposeful as that in a silent film of that time before -- a non-Griffith silent, to boot -- so it came off as really damn clever, to me. :-)

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  21. In the restoration process Rick Schmidlin and the staff doing the restoration were very sensitive to the problems of the speed of the film. For instance, in the scene were Houdini was being chased up the stairs, all the people in the screening room were asked their opinion, which we gave. Then a vote was taken, about 8 or 10 (?), as to the preferred speed. This was possible as the film was now digitized. The same was done, if we recall correctly, with the scene where Houdini rolls under the carriage. In both cases the scenes were slowed down to give them a more natural appearance.

    Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz
    The Houdini Museum
    The Only Building in the World Dedicated to Houdini

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    1. I think you guys nailed it, especially the rolling under that truck.

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  22. When we first looked The Grim Game at the Metroplis screening September 2014 we ran it 22 fps. The slower scene's were jerky and the scene's like going up the stairs and the car ran like way too fast. I viewed a DVD made at 18 fps which ran two slow. So it was decided that intent was 20 fps. in 1919 any were from 16 to 22 were the norm. I also talked to friend Kevin Brownlow and David Shepard leader in the field of silent film and my mentor's.Also remember camera's were hand cranked and they varied in the camera. Over the years many films were reported at many different running time's.Some theater's ran film fast so to get more screening that day, other's if they got a turkey ran as fast as they could to make the action move quick so those watching might not get board, Camera speed on 24 fps came with the birth of sound and The Jazz Singer,

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  23. Still to see the two showings with the different musical scores. Waiting for TCM UK schedule.
    Watched the GG at the Barbican on the 11th October. Piano accompaniment worked brilliantly as I was totally engrossed in the film and was unaware of the musician (credit to his expertise).
    HH was in his element. You could see the power in his large hands and forearms. Testament to his years of training etc.
    An awesome film and as already stated by others ,the nearest we will get to seeing a "natural" HH performance. Many thanks to all those involved in bringing this to us all. So many strands to the journey of this "lost" film (as we all know from all the great information here ( cheers John ) and on other sites.) from acquisition to restoration to screening. Can't wait to see it again.

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  24. Thank you for the info Mr. Schmidlin! I worked as a theater projectionist for roughly 17 years. The bottom end of the movie business but had a lot fun. You're in your own little world in that dark projection room. I came in when the platter systems were already underway, so rewinding the film between shows was no longer a problem. Christie IMO made the best platters.

    I can't imagine the work those projectionists in the silent days had to put in their shifts hand cranking those films. The FPS was definitely going to vary from time to time. Looking forward to the Grim Game DVD and which soundtrack TCM plans on using.

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  25. Our hope is if enough people show interest and go to TCM website and ask for or vote for a DVD they will put one out. Although now DVD on demand is available but probably more costly per piece. We would also hope, if they put out a DVD, it will have the Rick Schmidlin - Brane Zivkovic score and the Sterner partly improvised piano music as a choice upon playback. Then people can watch it with the music they feel most comfortable with. Since Turner first paid for the one and then the other this would seem the most likely.

    Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz
    The Houdini Museum
    The Only Building in the World Dedicated to Houdini

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