Harvey Hanford (Harry Houdini) is a reporter with a newspaper called “The Daily Call”. His uncle is an old curmudgeon named Dudley Cameron (Thomas Jefferson). Cameron lives with his ward, an adorable young woman named Mary Wentworth (Ann Forrest). Harvey and Mary are in love but Cameron hates his nephew Harvey.
Harvey is not the only person who has problems with Cameron. Harvey’s boss, Clifton Allison (Augustus Phillips) the owner of The Daily Call, owes Cameron money. He took out some notes from Cameron and they are due. Cameron’s lawyer Richard Raver (Tully Marshall) has been embezzling from the accounts for years. Cameron’s physician, Doctor Harvey Tyson (Arthur Hoyt), is in Cameron’s will. The will states that Mary must not marry until after he dies. The will further states that after his death Mary must Marry Doc Tyson in order to inherit. Doc Tyson likes Cameron but Cameron’s death would benefit him greatly. He’d get Mary and Cameron’s millions.
Harvey is aware that Allison is having problems keeping the paper afloat. He comes up with a scheme to increase circulation and relevance. Raver and Tyson are aware of the scheme. The plot is to have Doc Tyson recommend that Cameron have a change of scenery and send him to the shore. Harvey will send his friend Ethel Delmead (Mae Busch) as his nurse. They will leave at night so that no one sees them leave. Harvey will then plant fake evidence at the house indicating that Cameron had been killed. Police will investigate as if it is murder and the circumstantial evidence will point to him. Once he is arrested Cameron will be brought back, Harvey will be exonerated and the paper gets the scoop.
It’s a crazy idea and fraught with peril should something go wrong. Which of course does. When Cameron is actually killed Harvey is arrested for the murder. The three men who helped dream up the scheme are looking at each other but are now stuck with a lie since if Harvey gets off they will all be looked at as suspects. They all say they know nothing about the ruse. Harvey is tossed into jail. Harvey has to break out of jail and elude the police while he tries to find out who really killed Dudley Cameron.
“The Grim Game” was released in 1919 and was directed by Irvin Willat. It is a silent adventure and mystery film. For decades the film was considered to be a lost film. Larry Weeks had obtained a copy from the Houdini estate in 1947. He would show it occasionally to people. In 2014 the 95 year old Weeks agreed to give the print to Rick Schmidlin and Turner Classic Movies. Schmidlin restored the film.
The film boasts a mid-air collision between two planes. The collision was not in the script. The two planes actually crashed together and came tumbling down. The planes managed to free themselves but still crash landed, one of them upside down. No one was killed. The entire thing was caught on film by cameraman Al Wilson in another plane. With such a plum in the can the filmmakers changed the script to incorporate the crash footage as part of the plot.
Houdini preferred to do all his stunts; however, the film company hired a stunt double, Robert E. Kennedy, for this particular stunt. Kennedy was to hang by a rope from one plane and drop into the cockpit of the plane below it. David Thompson was flying the plane with Kennedy aboard hanging from the landing gear. The two planes were lined up when a gust of wind pushed Thompson’s plane into the other plane that was being flown by Christopher Pickup. Thompson’s landing gear got tangled in the wing of the second plane and flipped. Eventually the two planes untangled and landed separately.
The marketing for the movie implied that Houdini himself was doing the stunt. Houdini let the misconception stand. Kennedy was a former army air force flight instructor. He applied for and received a contract to perform the stunt.
Houdini only did five films, one of them a serial. “The Grim Game” is probably the best of the Houdini movies and was the first. The film is mostly action. Houdini must escape from chains, a jail, a straight jacket while dangling from the top of a building and a bear trap. Along with the amazing aerial event there is a lot to see in the seventy-one minute film.
Except for Houdini’s serial “The Master Mystery” 1919 all the characters in Houdini’s movies have the initials H.H.