Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Houdini Miniseries-A Tale of Two Movies


I'll begin by throwing all my cards on the table.....This is the movie that could have been and should have been the greatest Houdini movie of all time. I think all of us in the magic community had very high hopes, maybe too high. With the History Channel's track record of fine productions, we certainly expected to get a quality film. Did we? Read on.

As far as acting, set design, costuming, cinematography, all very well done. Some of the attention to detail was incredible, like the recreation of Houdini Posters with Adrien Brody's image.  As far as the story, that's where the wheels come off. The story on Night 1 was so full of errors and fabrications I was truly stunned. But then Night 2, though it still had a few errors, the movie was so much closer to the true story. It was almost as if they had been written by different people.

I'm puzzled by the copying of material from the Tony Curtis/Houdini movie. That movie was mostly fabricated, but still fun. And a number of the elements of that movie find their way into this movie. For example, the wedding night/bedroom scene where Houdini has his wife climb into a box. In the Tony Curtis movie Bess gets into a sawing in half box. In the Adrien Brody movie, Bess gets into a trunk, and it's a little unclear why.

The Original Under Ice Scene
Later in the film there is a bathroom scene where Houdini is in a tub of ice, this is straight out of the Tony Curtis movie. And the whole under the ice escape scene is borrowed as well. In Tony Curtis movie Houdini claims he heard his mother's voice and that is how he found the hole in the ice. In the Adrien Brody movie, same thing. The only difference was in the Curtis movie it was the Detroit River and a packing case escape. In the Brody movie, it was the Mississippi and a Bridge Jump.

There seemed to be less borrowing of ideas on Night 2. But there was some real glossing over of things, like Houdini's film career. It was there and gone very quickly and didn't get the amount of air time it deserved. His exposure shows were not even featured. They did show him at seances proving the mediums were faking things, but that's where it stops. In real life Houdini added the exposure of mediums to his show and from all accounts it was loved by audiences. OH and Theo, man he got the crap end of the deal, almost no air time. As for Houdini's other siblings, not a word.

Then there were some real gems in the movie as well. The scene with Houdini and his doctor near the end, wow. The scene with the Lady Doyle Seance was really quite enthralling. The scene featuring the Cannon Escape, excellent.

So where does that leave me? I didn't really like Night 1 at all. But Night 2 I really enjoyed. Now, please understand, I was watching night one through the eyes of a magician and Houdini historian. Night 2 my expectations were lowered and to my surprise, Night 2 was really quite good except for one thing. I felt a little disappointed when the movie didn't run the full two hours. I understand there is close to 30 minutes of additional footage on the DVD, but I would like to have seen it tonight.

Despite the fact I didn't care for the first nights showing, I can tell you I was in the minority. The movie had huge viewership and those are average everyday lay people.

The Houdini Bloggers saw their number of views shoot up greatly. I think John Cox with WildaboutHoudini.com was in first place hands down with 50,000+ views. I had around 10,000 views and Tom Interval reported he had an increase but didn't reveal any numbers. I'm sure the other Houdini bloggers also saw an increase of traffic on their sites so that is good.

OH, last night before the movie aired, there was an episode of Pawn Stars where Gay Blackstone was featured trying to pawn one of the original(?) Blackstone Vanishing Cages. My article on the Vanishing Bird Cage received 2000 views last night.

I spent a couple hours at lunch today with a friend who couldn't stop talking about Houdini and he is not a magician. Again, great sign. I'm really looking for all the positives from this movie at this point. I'm very grateful for the History Channel for putting this movie together, for the incredible Houdini-like publicity campaign and for all the magic-tie in commercials. The marketing department at A&E did a great job.

Yes, the movie could have been better, but it was not a total loss. Night two did a lot to salvage the movie from a magic history perspective. Remember, the History Channel wasn't making a Houdini Documentary, nor were they making this movie for the magic community. This was for the lay people and by all accounts the lay folks LOVED IT! The movie can only be good for magic and for Houdini's memory. As far as the falsehoods, well that's why the Houdini historians are out there to correct the record.

Finally,  WWHT? What Would Houdini Think? I tend to think, with the exception of a couple scenes, he would have loved the movie. Afterall, he was the original fabricator of Houdini stories!!!!!

Now in the words of Bess Houdini, "The Zero Hour Has Past....I now reverently Turn Out the Light...Good-Night Harry."

UPDATE: Watch for an upcoming issue of The Linking Ring because I took this article and expanded on it for the magazine.

6 comments:

  1. Dean, your insight, as always is greatly appreciated, and spot on. I fall into the category of Lay person who admires Houdini, and Mr. Escape, who duplicated him. I hope this movie allows a whole new generation of "escapology" fans, and perhaps allows the next great escape artist to come to be.

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    1. John, though this movie was a 'miss' for the magic community, I also hope that it brings in future Houdini fans, future escapology fans, and future magicians.

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  2. John Honson great nephew of Bess and Harry. HoudiniSeptember 3, 2014 at 6:54 PM

    I hope some day that they will do a real accurate life on Houdini, the people to write it should be Houdini experts. Part one was crap part 2 was better.

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    1. I agree totally John. I want to see a HOUDINI biopic that is Academy Award material.....maybe someday.

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  3. Well done review! I was a bit disappointed too. The facts we can suss out about his life are more than interesting without all the fabrication and speculative embellishments. I was looking forward to reading your take and you didn't disappoint. Paul Reardon ~ Squire of Incarceration Attire

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    1. Paul, yes and my feeling as well. Houdini's life is so interesting as is, there is no need to embellish it.

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