Friday, February 7, 2014

The Master Mystery (1919)

Starring Harry Houdini, Marguerite Marsh, Ruth Stonehouse, Edna Britton, William Pike
Directed by Harry Grossman & Burton L. King
(actor & director credits courtesy

In this movie serial, a young inventor employed by a patent company battles against the schemes of the evil vice president of the company, which require him to escape from multiple death traps.

Famed real-life escape artist Harry Houdini stars in an intriguing serial from the early days of silent cinema, which has been preserved on DVD by the Kino label, but is sadly incomplete, with a number of chapters lost to the ravages of time.  What remains though offers us the opportunity to see Houdini in his prime, performing escapes from a variety of forms of bondage, and it gives the viewer a certain thrill to know that our hero is escaping due to his own wits and talent, and not through the movie trickery employed in standard cliffhangers.  Unlike most of the serials I've seen, this one is densely plotted with a great deal of romantic melodrama, bringing on the action only near each chapter's conclusion, which made some chapters seem to drag a bit.  Nevertheless, it's still an entertaining saga, and a treasure for those wanting to see history's most famous magician in the flesh.

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