Saturday, October 14, 2023

The Aftermath of Playing Houdini


The Aftermath of Playing HOUDINI

In 1998, actor Johnathon Schaech took on the role of Harry Houdini. It was his first lead role in his career. The movie debuted on the TNT network Dec 6, 1998. I remember it well. I recorded it onto a VHS tape, which I still have. I've watched the movie many many times. Though not perfect by any stretch, I thought Johnathon did a fine job as Houdini. Interestingly, a young Mark Ruffalo would play Theo Hardeen in the movie, long before becoming The Incredible Hulk.

The opening of this movie is one of my favorites of all the various Houdini movies. It opens with Houdini's 1906 escape from the Old DC Jail and the cell that once held the assassin of President Garfield, Charles Guiteau. That scene really delivers Houdini in a way that others didn't. 

There is much to like about this movie. The fact that Johnathon Schaech portrays a different side of Houdini than previous movies is to me refreshing. This Houdini is strong, ready to take on the world, much like the real man. But the movie makes one fatal error, and I'll leave it up to you to figure out if you see it. But suffice to say, it's not the fictionalized ending the movie, which I will admit I didn't mind at all. 

I recall that after his portrayal of Houdini, Johnathan got invited to attend one of the Official Houdini Seances. I'll have to see if I can dig up anything on that for my next podcast.

Recently, I stumbled upon a TV show where Johnathon talks about his experience AFTER making the movie. Specifically, the night of the movie's premier at the Austin Film Festival. Apparently, that night did not go as well as he or anyone else hoped. But rather than go into his experience, I'm going to post the video below. 

He does consult a psychic medium, and think of that what you will, but suffice to say, hearing his story and how it affected him personally is sadly emotional. I think he's carried this weight of not doing a good job in his portrayal. I can say, as a Houdini Historian, his was one of the better portrayals, and though the movie, like many, has it's fictionalized moments, I still enjoy watching it. I think he did Houdini right and if ole Harry would have anything to say, he would shake Mr. Schaech's hand and thank him for a job well done.

Please watch the video for yourselves...


  1. Oh wow, thank you for the clip. I've not seen this. It was exciting when this movie first aired and I also recored it to VHS. Remember TNT played it twice back to back? I recorded one with commercials and one without. But I'm afraid I've now cooled to this movie. I love Curtis and Glaser. All the movies after that just don't do anything for me. Expect to bring back memories, which is nice.

    1. I will agree, Curtis and Glaser are the top two. There are things about this movie I like, a few I don't. Death Defying Acts is unwatchable to me. I cannot stand that movie. I do need to revisit the Brody Houdini movie mainly because I heard an interview with Nicholas Meyer and it made me want to go back and rewatch it. I'd put Schaech at number 3. Although Harvey Keitel's version of Houdini was quite good even though it was a small part. I think I'm going to watch ALL of these movies, including, ugh, Death Defying Acts (if I can stomach it) over the next few days. I'm stll hoping that one day we'll get a solid bio-pic of Houdini without all the fictionalized nonsense.