Tribute to Harry Houdini – Terror Island (1920)
Cast: Harry Houdini as Harry Harper
Jack Brammall as Ensign Tom Starkey
Lila Lee as Beverly West (The Unholy Three)
Wilton Taylor as Job Mourdant
Eugene Pallette as Guy Mordant (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington)
Written by Arthur B. Reeve (The Grim Game) & John W. Grey (The Kid Brother)
Adapted for the screen by Walter Woods
Directed by James Cruze (The Great Gabbo)
Plot: Harry Harper has invented a new type of submarine with an electronic periscope. However, before he gets a chance to finish it, the story hits the newspapers and fortune seekers want to use it to find gold and riches buried in the South Seas. Unfortunately, the father of the woman he loves, Beverly West, has been kidnapped by cannibals and unless she turns over a pearl that belongs to one of her idols, he’ll become the main course. Meanwhile, the Mourdant family wishes to capture his invention and Harry must fight them off through a series of daring escapes.
Personal Thoughts & Trivia: Originally produced under the title Salvage, Terror Island is a sensationalized epic on the high seas with cannibals that are definitely politically incorrect by today’s standards. Despite that modern-day flaw, it is the most professional looking of all of Houdini’s films. With the island of Catalina as a filming location, the entire film appears to be a more cohesive effort with a lessened emphasis on the escapes of Houdini and more on the overall plot. Unfortunately, many critics refused to take the film serious before the first reel even started due to Houdini’s presence, which by this time was a negative hurdle to surpass. It was only moderately successful and was the last major studio effort for Houdini.
With two of the seven reels now missing, Terror Island moves along at a very brisk 50 minute pace. It’s actually quite enjoyable. Unfortunately, Houdini became a little frustrated following its lack of success and traveled to London to explore psychic phenomena with his friend, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is this time period that served as the background for the short-lived Fox Television series, Houdini and Doyle. Houdini was fond of exposing spiritualism frauds despite his own hopes of communicating with his wife should he die before she did. When Sir Doyle’s wife claimed to have communicated with Houdini’s mother, he believed her a fraud as well due to several inconsistencies. This would essentially end his friendship with Doyle.
Houdini would soon be ready to form his own motion picture company as his next film, The Man from Beyond, would become his most famous effort.