Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Joe Notaro cracks 'The Mystery of the Jewel'

Our friend Joe Notaro at Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence recently shared documents from his trip to the Harry Ransom Center related to Houdini's (ill-fated?) film acquisition, Il Mistero de Osiris aka The Mystery of the Jewel aka Ashes of Passion aka Reincarnation aka Ashes of Passion (again).

The story goes that Houdini acquired the negative of a 1919 Italian film, Il Mistero de Osiris, in a U.S. Customs auction of unclaimed goods in 1921. Just like his recently completed The Man From Beyond, the movie was a riff on the theme of reincarnation. Under the guise of a new company, Mystery Pictures, Houdini copyrighted the movie as The Mystery of the Jewel (Talisman) and printed an English translation of the plot synopsis, just as he had for his (bonkers) Yar The Primeval Man film treatment. And that's about all most books have to say about The Mystery of the Jewel, if they say anything at all.

But these documents reveal Houdini's plan to spruce up the film for release in the U.S. by creating new English inter-titles and inserting new footage. One sequence involved stock animal footage that Houdini provided specific instructions on how to assemble and where to insert into the movie. It's also possible Houdini planned to shoot new footage in Egypt, although that's not clear. Along the way the film's title changed to Ashes of Passion and in March 1922 Houdini attempted to interest the Vitagraph Co. in the still unfinished project.

Eventually, Mystery Pictures entered into an agreement to sell the movie, now titled Reincarnation, to Bernard Levey and Basic Enterprises for $5,250.00. A contact was drawn up on September 25, 1922 that shows Basic and Levey would hire a director to complete the film and share a percentage of the profits of any release with Mystery Pictures.

I was excited to see this contact as it appeared to finally explain what happened to the movie and I was set to search for a film called Reincarnation. However, Joe found another document dated April 24, 1923 in which Mystery Pictures entered into a new agreement with someone named Sheik Tahar. The movie was now back to being called Ashes of Passion and Tahar was granted a $1 option on the film against a $6000 purchase price. So it appears the Levey-Basic Enterprises deal didn't work out.

That's the last document, so it's unclear what became of Ashes of Passion. But I think it's likely Tahar never found a buyer and the film never saw a release. It became just another one of Houdini's unrealized and unprofitable film ventures.

You'll want to check out the original documents at Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence where you can also read a synopsis of the movie's plot. And be sure to follow Joe's current series looking at Houdini's various film treatments. His next installment will be on The Great Tontine.

1 comment:

  1. Great find by Joe! Notice how HH dived into the film business from all angles. First as a film actor, then the technical side with film development. Then as a screenwriter, and director. Then as a producer. He was a One Man Army Corps, with Dash's help.