Harry Houdini in The Master Mystery (1919-20, dir. Harry Grossman & Burton L. King)
While at the height of his fame as a magician & escape artist in the late 1910s, Harry Houdini attempted to make the jump to screen stardom. His first major vehicle was The Master Mystery, a 15-chapter serial that served as a showcase for Houdini’s greatest escapes.
Each episode ends with a cliffhanger: Houdini restrained & in peril - nailed inside a packing crate dumped in a river, tied up over a vat of acid, strapped to an electric chair, tied up underneath a descending elevator, or, as in the episode pictured above, wrapped in barbed wire and dumped in the path of an acid stream. Just as our hero is about to buy the farm, a “to be continued” title card cuts off the action, a technique that had record-breaking crowds returning to the theater every week to see the escape (supposedly accomplished with no camera tricks) that began each ensuing chapter.