Just Like Magic, Harry Houdini’s The Grim Game Reappears with the Help of NYU Libraries’ Barbara Goldsmith Preservation and Conservation Department


The Grim Game, was thought to have all but vanished from existence. However, early last year, a one-of-a-kind full print and negative were discovered by film preservationist Rick Schmidlin and Turner Classic Movies (TCM). The New York University Libraries’ Barbara Goldsmith Preservation and Conservation Department’s media preservation team was called upon to assist with the restoration of the lost feature.

The Grim Game Film Loop
On the preservationist's table, the The Grim Game is physically examined, cleaned, and detailed for preservation and transfer to digital. Photo Credit: Kimberly Tarr

Harry Houdini, a Hungarian-American illusionist and stunt performer, became famous for his sensational escape acts in the early 20th century. Houdini also made several movies, but soon quit acting and the film business because, as he put it, “the profits are too meager.”

One of his films, The Grim Game, was thought to have all but vanished from existence. However, early last year, a one-of-a-kind full print and negative were discovered by film preservationist Rick Schmidlin and Turner Classic Movies (TCM). The New York University Libraries’ Barbara Goldsmith Preservation and Conservation Department’s media preservation team was called upon to assist with the restoration of the lost feature.

“The restoration of The Grim Game was a true cross-institutional collaboration,” says Kimberly Tarr, head of the Media Preservation Unit at the Libraries. “Professor Brane Živković of Tisch connected us to film preservationist Rick Schmidlin, who asked the Libraries to play a key role in inspecting the film negative and print, confirming the content, and recommending technical specifications for its digital transfer.”

NYU Libraries was able to lend its expertise in film inspection and handling; provide secure, climate-controlled storage; and discuss technical considerations for the film’s restoration.

Brane Živković – who teaches music composition for film and television at the Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film and Television, Tisch School of the Arts, NYU – composed and conducted the score for The Grim Game.

In The Grim Game, Houdini plays Harvey Hanford, a young man who is framed for murder. As Hanford escapes from the police and goes after the gang of men who framed him, the movie offers numerous opportunities for Houdini to display his own skills as an escape artist, illusionist and stunt man. Among the most remarkable sequences is a mid-air collision between two airplanes that was actually a real accident caught on film and used in the story.

“This is the type of dream project that first lured me into the field of film preservation,” says Tarr. “As both a graduate of and instructor in the Moving Image Archiving and Preservation (MIAP) program here at NYU, I know how rare an opportunity this was. It's not every day that a lost film from 1919 is found, let alone one starring a man whose name has become synonymous with magic.”

The Grim Game makes its world premiere screening debut during 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival held March 26-29 in Hollywood. During the world premiere screening at the festival, composer Brane Živković will be on hand to conduct a live performance of his new score for the film. Additionally, The Grim Game will make its world television debut on TCM later in the year.

Tarr and Živković are also currently working on a special New York City screening event this spring.

The Grim Game Restoration Credits

The Grim Game restoration was produced and supervised by Rick Schmidlin, in association with The Barbara Goldsmith Preservation and Conservation Department, New York University Libraries, Kimberly Tarr, head of the media preservation unit, and Benjamin Moskowitz, lab supervisor who helped prepare the restoration. The digital restoration was carried out by Thomas Eberschveiler at Metropolis Post in New York City, with John Rizzo as project manager and Brian Boyd as colorist for the black-and-white timing.

Brane Živković – who teaches music composition for film and television at the Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film and Television, Tisch School of the Arts, NYU – composed and conducted the score for The Grim Game. The music was recorded under the supervision of music contractor Dave Eggar at Dubway Studios, New York, with recording engineer Mike Judeh. It was mixed by Matt Rocker at Underground Audio, New York.

Consultants for the restoration of The Grim Game are Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz, owners and operators of The Houdini Museum in Scranton, Penn.

About the Barbara Goldsmith Preservation and Conservation Department
The Barbara Goldsmith Preservation and Conservation Department’s Media Preservation Unit strives to extend the usable life of film, video, and audio collections through preventive treatments, training, research, and preservation reformatting.

About NYU Tisch MIAP

Founded in 2003, The Moving Image Archiving and Preservation (MIAP) Program is one of only three graduate programs in the United States devoted to training the next generation of audiovisual archivists. It is a rigorous interdisciplinary 64-credit, two-year course of study in the Department of Cinema Studies at the Tisch School of the Arts that provides students with a comprehensive education in the theories, methods and practices of moving image archiving and preservation.

The MIAP program is unique in its emphasis on training specialists to manage mixed collections of film, magnetic media, and digital media in a variety of organizations such as archives, museums, and specialized repositories. MIAP graduates lead in creating new policies and strategies for preservation and access.

The NYU Division of Libraries comprises five libraries in Manhattan and one each in Brooklyn, Abu Dhabi and Shanghai. Its flagship, the Elmer Holmes Bobst Library on Washington Square, houses more than four million volumes and receives 2.6 million visits annually. Around the world the Libraries offers access to more than 1.2 million electronic journals, books, and databases; its website received 2.5 million visits last year. For more information about the NYU Libraries, please visit http://library.nyu.edu

About Turner Classic Movies (TCM)

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) is a two-time Peabody Award-winning network that presents great films, uncut and commercial-free, from the largest film libraries in the world. TCM, which is available in more than 85 million homes, features the insights of hosts Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz, plus interviews with a wide range of special guests. Currently in its 21st year as a leading authority in classic film, TCM offers critically acclaimed original documentaries and specials; film series like The Essentials, and Friday Night Spotlight; and annual programming events like 31 Days of Oscar® in February, Summer Under the Stars in August and TCM Essentials Jr. during the summer. TCM also connects with movie fans through such events as the annual TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood and the TCM Classic Cruise, as well as through the TCM Classic Film Tour in New York City and Los Angeles. In addition, TCM produces a wide range of media about classic film, including books and DVDs, and hosts a wealth of material online at tcm.com and through the Watch TCM mobile app.

TCM is part of Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., a Time Warner company. Turner Broadcasting creates and programs branded news; entertainment; animation and young adult; and sports media environments on television and other platforms for consumers around the world.


The Grim Game Movie Poster

Press Contact

Christopher James
Christopher James
(212) 998-6876