Saturday, November 19, 2016

The master mystery behind Houdini's pirated films

Our friend Joe Notaro over at HHCE has come up with a nice new nugget of info about Houdini's movie career. Joe examined four mysterious Houdini "movies" that appear in newspapers around 1920-21: The Marked Woman, The Lure of Power, The Law Pirates and The Doctor’s Vengeance. It's clear from the ads that these features were made using footage from Houdini's 15 episode serial, The Master Mystery. But were they legitimate releases?

We now know that answer is "no." Joe has discovered a notice from Octagon Films warning distributors that the titles are pirated work by Amber Productions of Philadelphia. It certainly took some cheek for Amber to call one of their movies "Law Pirates."

By 1920, Houdini was on the outs with Octagon and producer B.A. Rolfe. He had to sue for money owned him for the serial. So here's a thought. Could Houdini be behind Amber Productions? He might have felt entitled after being stiffed by Rolfe, and he did own a film lab that could have whipped up these prints. Just throwing it out there.



  1. Interesting thought!
    In the omen post, there is a reference to a quartet of brave conspirators (Houdini, John W. Grey, Arthur B. Reeve, and Louis Grossman) meeting in 1919 [?] to form the Supreme Pictures Corporation [which you mention was christened as Octagon Films] and flipping a coin to decide who would be president.
    It was 1918 when B.A. Rolfe was elected as President of Octagon Films, Adelbert H. Fischer as Vice-President, and Louis Grossman as General Manager, Secretary and Treasurer. And it was 1918 when Octagon Films/B.A. Rolfe and Louis Grossman had a parting of the ways; that is Grossman resigned on November 19th, 1918. Houdini and Rolfe also had a parting of the ways shortly after the film came out.
    What if the quartet of brave conspirators formed Amber Productions?

    1. Hmmm...maybe! But it could be the 1919 date is a mistake in "A Million and One Nights." I quoted the book direct. You're right. They would have formed in 1918.

  2. Well according to Exhibitors Herald and others, it turns out that Reeve and Grey gained control of Supreme Pictures, Inc in 1919 and Mr. Grey assumed the presidency and Mr. Reeve the vice-presidency under the new arrangement. So, Octagon Films and Supreme Pictures appears to be two separate film companies.
    According to Handsome Heroes and Vicious Villains, Grey also worked at Octagon Films as director of advertising and publicity, a post he relinquished in November 1919 when Houdini sued Rolfe.
    Apparently, Grossman wanted to employ the entire organization of Octagon Films to promote a new company, Oliver Films, which he was the vice-president and general manager. He approached Reeve about bringing Craig Kennedy back to the serial screen as a 15-chapter offering. He also cast Marguerite Marsh, fresh off of The Master Mystery.
    AFAI, Amber productions, maybe HH was President, VP, General Manager, Secretary, Treasurer, and Director of advertising and publicity; LoL!

    1. Okay, that makes sense. Seems like everyone was forming their own production companies at this time. Wouldn't be long before Houdini did the same!

      I'm thinking Houdini's relationship with Reeve and Grey and Supreme Pictures might be an untold story.