Lobby Card Dissection: Haldane of the Secret Service, or, “Harry Houdini’s Howling Whodunit”

I have been off on another vintage advertising detour and thought I would share a few things that struck me as funny about a lobby card for Harry Houdini’s final motion picture.

Here’s the whole enchilada:

Houdini had gamely tried to make it in motion pictures but, well, he wasn’t exactly the most electric screen presence to ever come along. Haldane would be his last attempt at film stardom.

A poster for Houdini’s stage act, in which he escapes from a giant uterus.

But that doesn’t mean he’ll eschew top billing! Oh no, this is a Houdini picture, starring Houdini. Did I mention Houdini is in it?

“World Famous Handcuff King” Oh my!

A Houdini face for every angle! Disembodied heads for all! Houdini!

Well, if you’ve seen the film, you know the plot is pretty wacky. Our heroine dissuades the heroic Haldane from helping himself to her handbag by telling him it contains her underwear.

You can’t blame him for backing off. Who wants girl cooties?

These wax figures are getting more and more lifelike, aren’t they?

Want to dress like the 1920s? Just frizz out your hair and put on a hospital bracelet! #lifehacks

You can read my review of Haldane of the Secret Service here. And check out my previous lobby card dissection; I talked about The Sheik.

Availability: Released as part of Kino Lorber’s excellent Houdini: The Movie Star box set. Unfortunately, the set is out of print and the second-hand dealers are asking outrageous sums for it. There is also a single disc edition released by Alpha but considering the company’s poor reputation…


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  1. Dwight Davis

    I hope The Grim Game will come out on DVD. It was though lost but was found. I watched it when it aired on TCM. TCM showed it twice on one evening with two different scores. I really liked The Grim Game.

  2. floodmouse

    I kinda liked those Houdini movies. I’d heard a lot about him, but never actually seen him in action, and it was an eye-opener. I borrowed the whole set from the library on disk a few years ago, and watched them all, but the memories are a bit hazy. What impressed me was that when Houdini does that escape from the straitjacket, there isn’t just a “trick” to it, but he moves every muscle in his body, including some muscles I’m pretty sure I don’t have. I can’t remember which movie, but I think I was pretty impressed by one of his female sidekicks, too. Judging these movies by the standards of an average action picture, I think they’re kind of fun. A lot of modern action pictures are also made to showcase a star who has tremendous physical talents, even if the acting isn’t going to win an Oscar – and I have no problem with a good popcorn movie!

  3. Chase

    Not familiar with Houdini, but I’m familiar with The Grim Game more for it’s director Irvin Willat (looking forward to the release of Behind the Door btw.) His relationship with Billie Dove is heart shattering and sadly none of their films have survived to showcase what a special partnership they shared. And as for the lobby poster…well, can’t say it’s any better or worse looking than most of the photoshopped posters marketing departments spew out on nowaday’s theater displays. I’ll take a handmade piece of artwork or an effective standalone photo any day of the week for my ideal poster.

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      I’m not saying this lobby card is better or worse than other posters of modern times or the silent era. I’m just having a bit of fun with the eccentricities of its design.

      1. Chase

        I know, to me atleast it’s average. If the continuity photographer didn’t shoot this picture during a rehearsal or during the actual filming, imagine all the weird directions and gestures the actors were encouraged to put on at the moment.

  4. John Cox (@HoudiniWild)

    Fun post. Thank you. I enjoyed your Haldane review as well.

    The Grim Game is the Houdini movie to see. It’s the only movie he made that actually works on all levels, IMO. Too bad there isn’t yet a DVD. Fingers crossed that we’ll get one.

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