Lost Houdini film featured at film festival

Once-lost Houdini Film "The Grim Game" is the main attraction at Weyauwega International Film Festival 2018. (Photo courtesy of Turner Classic Movies)

WEYAUWEGA, Wis. (WLUK) -- Many believed a Harry Houdini film had escaped years ago, never to be seen again, but that was just an illusion.

After nearly a century, the film “The Grim Game” has resurfaced, and it’s hitting the screen at the George Gerold Opera House in Weyauwega this weekend.

“Having it here, as close as this festival can get to Appleton, is really special,” Lawrence University film studies professor Jack Rhodes said.

The long-lost Houdini gem has been called the Appleton illusionist’s best film work of all time.

From 1919 to 2015, when it was found, The Grim Game had only been seen by the public three times, and in a small setting.

The 1919 Houdini film that was thought to have performed a disappearing act of its own has made its way to the Weyauwega Film Festival this year.

“This film looks fantastic, and it’s really... to see Harry Houdini in action acting, you know, it’s really kind of fascinating,” said Weyauwega Film Festival executive director Ian Teal.

Although it may have been fitting, the six reels containing the entire film weren’t bound in shackles or buried six feet under. This well-kept secret was in the hands of the late New York City juggler and Houdini collector Larry Weeks.

It was rescued by Weeks after the Houdini family had to get rid of a collection of his films.

It was only right before Weeks died that he decided to release it to Turner Classic Movies to have it restored.

“To think you’re that close to finding and being able to bring to the public a film they have not seen since 1919 in a large settingit was an incredibly emotional experience,” said Rick Schmidlin, who restored The Grim Game.

After more than 600 hours of restoration work, the silent film was brought back to life.

It’s a murder mystery of sorts that promises to showcase several of Houdini’s escapes and some of the best action sequences.

“It is not Gone with the Wind, it is not Citizen Kane, it’s not The Sound of Music, but it is an enjoyable, short, 71-minutes’ worth of nonstop action,” Rhodes said.

The Grim Game will be shown Saturday night at the festival, beginning at 7:30 p.m.

For a full schedule of Weyauwega Film Festival 2018, click here.

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