Monday, January 25, 2021

The ship(s) from Haldane of the Secret Service

The "Carvania" as seen in Haldane of the Secret Service.

In Houdini's 1923 film, Haldane of the Secret Service, Gladys Leslie's Adele Ormsby travels to Europe via the ocean liner Carvania. Houdini's Heath Haldane, after dealing with some thugs in a warehouse, literally "catches" the ship by grabbing hold of a tow cable and being hoisted aboard. Several scenes then play out on the ship itself.

So what do know we about the Carvania? Well, for starters, it didn't exist. In the movie we get several establishing shots of the ship at a distance. But those shots appear to be the RMS Aquitania

RMS Aquitania (Wikipedia)

The RMS Aquitania was a British ocean liner launched in 1914. Aquitania was the third in Cunard Line's grand trio of express liners and the last surviving four-funnelled ocean liner. After being used as a troop transport and a hospital ship in World War I, she was returned to transatlantic passenger service in 1920, earning the nickname "the Ship Beautiful" from passengers. Houdini captured his shots of the "Ship Beautiful" in 1921.


The Aquitania was retired from service in 1949 as was scrapped the following year. Houdini never sailed on the Aquitania. But he did sail on her sister ship Mauretania in 1920.

While the Aquitania may be the ship we see in Haldane, I recently I found evidence that Houdini used a different vessel to film the scenes aboard the ship itself. The below is from the August 12, 1921 Variety.


This makes it pretty clear Houdini shot his scenes aboard the America. In fact, it appears to be the final "CA" in the name AMERICA can be glimpsed on the lifeboat in this shot from the film.

USS America (Wikipedia)

The SS Amerika was launched in 1905 as part of the Hamburg America Line of Germany. She sailed primarily between Hamburg and New York. On the night of April 14, 1912, Amerika transmitted a wireless message warning about icebergs near the same spot where RMS Titanic would sink less than three hours later. 


At the outset of the war, the Amerika was seized by the United States Shipping Board and became a Navy troop transport with her name Anglicized to America. In 1920, the ship was assigned to the United States Mail Steamship Company and returned to passenger service. Houdini filmed his scenes aboard the ship in August 1921. The America remained in service until 1949. She was sold for scrap in 1957. 

This means we now know the famous photo that Marie Blood used to sign and give out to fans (including yours truly) was taken aboard the America. I wonder if Marie recalled the name of the ship as those years later? If not, it would have been fun to have been able to share it with her. Alas, Marie passed away in 2004.


Finally, I don't know which vessel was used for the stunt in which Heath Haldane is dragged along the side. It certainly appears to be a real stunt using a real ship, but I find it hard to believe any in-use passenger ship would allow this. So it's possible this may have been a third yet identified Haldane ship.


Below are some more locations from Haldane of the Secret Service.

9 comments:

  1. Wow, great stuff John! I have that photo of Maria H Blood, along with another one of her, Houdini, and actress Gladys Leslie that shows even more details of the ship. Thanks for sharing this new info on the ships from Haldane.

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    1. Is that the pic in Henning? Had a look at that to see if I could spot anything that says America, but no go.

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    2. Yes, the copy I have is uncropped with a Maria B. COA stamped on the back, and shows more detail but does not identify the ship. The Houdini Blood Family lists the replica photo has taken on the movie set for “Haldane of the Secret Service”.

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  2. Yes--absolutely fantastic stuff! At this point a book can be written just on HH and his films. So much has been uncovered the last several years. I've never seen this particular photo of HH with Marie in her button down boots. That telegram warning about the icebergs is--pardon the pun--chilling.

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    1. The Houdini movie book MUST be done and we really do have so much more info. I still see myself doing it, but first up has to be my ultimate Houdini biography/chronology book.

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  3. I would vote for the movie book first!

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    1. Really? That's actually presently surprising. I find his movie career fascinating and there's so much that's never been chronicled. But I also notice the posts I do about his movies tend to not get as much attention. But a book really needs to happen. Maybe I can do both at the same time! (I just need to win the lottery so I can retire early.)

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  4. For me Master Mystery and Haldane tie as best Houdini movies. The level of detail and sourcing you’ve been able to obtain is extraordinary! It transforms watching the films to a new level. Thank you!

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    1. Thanks Tim! I love movie location hunts in general, and when it's a Houdini movie, all the better! Glad to meet a fellow Haldane fan. It doesn't get much love, but I actually like it better than The Man From Beyond.

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