The Grim Game forced into exhibition by the Block-booking System

American Silent Film by William K EversonLast Week, by sure coincidence (after seeing “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone movie”), I ended up at a used book store that was going out of business on March 24, 2013 (Houdini’s 139th Birthday).

While I didn’t find any books on Houdini, I did a find an interesting book (American Silent Film by William K. Everson) that had a brief mention of The Grim Game on pages 109 and 110 that I found very interesting.  Below are some snippets from these pages:

The block-booking system – This was a system by which the distributor sold an exhibitor an entire season’s product en masse, often sight unseen, since when the contract was signed, many of the films had not yet been made.  In order to get the films he wanted, the exhibitor also had to take many he did not want – in his eyes, the “bad” films. While the exhibitor’s resentment of his lack of freedom of choice was understandable, so was the distributor’s position.  As a group, exhibitors have always tended to prefer the safe and the tried-and-true over the off-beat and experimental.  Given total freedom of choice, most exhibitors would obviously book only the kinds of films and the star vehicles that they knew were box office.  The distributor, admittedly, used the block-booking system to salvage, the mistakes and the bad films.  On the other hand, many of a distributor’s best films might wind up on an exhibitor’s “reject” list, and would have had sparse showings indeed, had they not been forced into exhibition via the block-booking system. For example, exhibitors dealing with Paramount in 1918 and 1919 would have been clamoring for the latest releases of Douglas Fairbanks, William S. Hart, and Mary Pickford but, left to their own devices, would probably have by-passed The Grim Game (an unusually well-done melodrama starring Harry Houdini and directed by Irving Willat).  Forcing unwanted pictures onto a contract in a sense by-passed the exhibitor, bringing to the public a kind of film that the distributor thought it would buy if only it had the chance.

Paramount’s Wallace Reid vehicles were enormously popular, mainly because of Reid’s unique appeal.  Knowing this, Paramount literally ground them out, economically, quickly, and with so little imagination that they all seemed cut from an identical mold. Had they not had the Reid name to sell them, they would certainly have been on an exhibiter’s reject list. Films like The Grim Game, might not have attracted audiences on the same scale as the Reid films, but once in the theatre, it satisfied and surprised them, and told them that the movies were still capable of something fresh.

Thanks to the Block-booking System, audiences got to see an unusually well-done melodrama.

1922 Boys Cinema Card – Deep Sea Loot


Lately, we have seen a number of these cards for sale.   I have seen them sell anywhere from $67.66 to $400 and I have seen them listed as high as $1,499.99 on eBay.   Check out Kevin Connolly’s blog (Buy Me Now Before I Cost $3000) and the comments section for a discussion we had regarding price, condition, and grading.

Now, let’s focus on the card itself.  The card with Houdini was number 4 of a set of 24 famous heroes that was issued in England by Boys Cinema as an insert in their magazine March 25th, 1922.  It measures 2 1/16″ x 3 1/16″.

The image on the front is from still 298-63 of the Grim Game.

The bottom of the front of the card only lists Artcraft as opposed to Paramount-Artcraft; Paramount and Artcraft Motion pictures were part of the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation; In January 1918 Artcraft became a subsidiary of Paramount and in 1921, Paramount was part of a Federal monopoly investigation that caused Artcraft to be closed.


Now for the image on the back, it shows his birthplace as Appleton, Wisconsin which is not at all surprising.  But what is surprising is that “Deep Sea Loot” is listed as chief among his films.  So what was Deep Sea Loot?

During the 1910s, Houdini worked with underwater filmmakers J.E. and Ernest Williamson on a never-completed film (prospectively titled Houdini and the Miracle) that promised to show Houdini’s escape from a photosphere (an observation chamber that housed a camera that was attached to the bottom of a barge by a long tube). This film project was included in Houdini’s typewritten list of screen credits as Deep Sea Loot but was never made. [Disappearing Tricks by Matthew Solomon, pages 95, 98-99]

See the Movie Picture World, April 28, 1917, “Houdini For Pictures” article on page 622 and John Cox’s blog (Houdini’s Underwater Epic that wasn’t ) for more details on this Deep Sea Thrill.

Review of G&G and its connection with the GG

castleghostsI finally received my long awaited copy of Magicol January 2013.  I was not disappointed. My primary interest in this issue was the Magicol article that John Cox at Wild About Harry did on the Guests & Ghosts (G&G) of 278.  You see, I was fortunate enough to meet the Guest & Ghosts of 278 at the Magic Castle on Wednesday, July 18, 2012.  That is, I got to meet John Cox at the Magic Castle in Hollywood for the first time and hear his abbreviated version of the G&G talk he gave at the Magic Collectors Weekend in Chicago; it was quite the honor.

I have to agree with Magicana blog, that “John does a beautiful job highlighting some of the more famous and arcane visitors.

John starts his article and presentation with a connection to the Grim Game (GG) which of course I found fascinating.

Apparently, Houdini added the Family Guest Book to his Harlem home right after making the GG.  John mentions that Houdini, Bess, and Hardeen “christened the book with their signatures on August 1, 1919”.  He also mentions that Larry Weeks (magician and Houdini collector) signed the guest book on April 22, 1956; Is it possible that Larry acquired what is said to be the only surviving print of the GG on this day?

Props to John for doing an outstanding job researching and presenting the Houdini Family Guest book from 278 W 113th Street.

See Ann Forrest on a motorcycle in the Grim Game

The photo below is my rendition of what Ann Forrest might look like riding a motorcycle:

Rendition of Ann Forrest on Motorcyle

Scene 325 of The Grim Game takes place on a mountain road where we see Mary (Ann Forrest) riding in on a motorcycle.  After riding a long distance, the road is too rough for Mary to go any farther.  She stops and gets off of the motorcycle and proceeds quickly up a path. [Paraphrased from files at Margaret Herrick Library]