Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Houdini in the Cahuenga alley


One of the best sequences in The Grim Game is Houdini's suspended straitjacket escape and fall from a seven-story building. After he's saved by an awning, Houdini is seen dashing down a narrow street to freedom. It's the last shot before the fade out on the sequence.

Turns out there is a lot of history in this shot! Thanks to the amazing detective work of John Bengtson (Silent Locations), we now know Houdini is running down what is known as the East Cahuenga alley off Cahuenga Blvd. just south of Hollywood Blvd. Best of all, the alley is still there! This is one of the few remaining Grim Game filming locations where you can still walk (or run) in Houdini's footsteps.

Here's a photo I took last Sunday. The Jerk House sign, advertising a restaurant in the middle of the alley, is a recent addition.



The Cahuenga alley appears in several classic silent films, including Charlie Chaplin's The Kid (1921) and Harold Lloyd's Safety Last (1923). Buster Keaton also shot a famous stunt in front of the alleyway in Cops (1920). In the photo from Cops below you can see the construction of the Palmer Building behind the alley on Cosmo Street. That building still stands and is easily identifiable today.




In the script for The Grim Game, Houdini was supposed to scale a high wall to escape the asylum. Publicity photos of Houdini on the wall exist, but the scene is not in the final film. Instead, this shot of Houdini dashing down the alley and emerging onto Cahuenga boulevard was used to conclude the sequence.

This is pure speculation, but when the wall climbing sequence was either cut or abandoned, could this have been a quick pickup shot to fill the gap? The Cahuenga alley is not far from the location of the Famous Players-Lasky studio at Selma and Vine where The Grim Game was made.

You can read more about the history of the Cahuenga alley at John Bengtson's site: The Kid – Cops – Safety Last! Three comic masterpieces filmed at a common Hollywood alley you can still visit today. John says, "I can think of no Hollywood exterior that plays a greater role in silent movie history than this unique alleyway."

Related:

15 comments:

  1. Fantastic! My thoughts are that he wasn't able to adequately perform the wall scene due to his injured left wrist, thus the awning scene was added with the shot of the alley. Check the link below for the original plan for the straitjacket sequence:
    http://harryhoudinicircumstantialevidence.com/?p=538

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good theory. Think you might be onto something there.

      Delete
  2. I pass by this location rather frequently, and until these recent revelations only knew it as the site of Buster's "Cops" gag. I always stop for a moment to acknowledge it, and then I envision myself grabbing onto a passing vehicle and sailing horizontally out of the picture.

    I had NO idea there was so much more to honor there, least of all a Houdini connection! I am frankly amazed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm amazed as well. I actually didn't even know about the Buster connection. Like you, I've passed by this alley many times (and stumbled by it as this is just down the street from my favorite watering hole, the Velvet Margarita).

      It's so exciting to finally put Houdini himself on Hollywood Blvd. -- or at least a few steps from it.

      Delete
  3. I was sure I'd see a shot of John running through Cahuenga just like HH as I scrolled down this article.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha! I was by myself, but if I had someone there to take my pic, I would have definitely done one running down the alley. I did take a selfie that I tweeted.

      Delete
    2. Thanks to my great friend and Magic Castle librarian Lisa Cousins, we now have that pic! I've added it to the story. It's a complete coincidence that my arms and legs are in almost the exact same position as Houdini.

      We visited the alley on Wednesday after Lisa and Joe Fox treated me to a birthday lunch at Musso & Frank, founded in 1919, of course!

      Delete
    3. Great shot! The fellow on the left does look a bit more agile...

      Delete
  4. In my days when I hit the Cahenga newsstand every week, I used to illegally park in that alley for years without realizing its history.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I expect Hollywood is full of history like this. Hollywood Heritage gives 2 hours walking tour of Hollywood on some Saturdays. I've yet to take one of these, but it would be a great way to learn about things like this. Hate to think of all the history I'm unaware of.

      Delete
  5. Cahuenga looks narrower than it used to be. Developers have elbowed their way into the alley space that once existed. I don't think Dave would be able to squeeze his car in there for old times sake.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, it does look like it's narrowed down somewhat.

      Delete
  6. The art deco building on Cahuenga now standing to the left of the alley was completed in 1935 (designed by noted LA architects Morgan, Walls & Clements), making the alley slightly more narrow today.

    ReplyDelete

Translate

Contact Me

Name

Email *

Message *

Receive updates via email