Showing posts with label houdini movie. Show all posts
Showing posts with label houdini movie. Show all posts

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...

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Grim Game - Review

I've now officially seen The Grim Game. Actually now I've watched it three times. What an interesting movie. It's always exciting seeing Houdini in action. And it's even better seeing so many of the iconic photos of him come to life. For example, I never realized that the image of him in a straitjacket on the ledge of a building was actually from this movie. It's always been an incredible photo but now I've watched the whole scene.

As a silent film, I really enjoyed The Grim Game. Some of the story descriptions however seem a bit off to me. The IMDb website says "Jailed unjustly for a murder he did not commit, a young man uses his amazing powers of escape to free himself and pursue the actual killers, who hold his fiancée captive." While this is somewhat true, the facts of how he was jailed are quite different.

Houdini plays a character called Harvey Hanford who is the star reporter for The Daily Call Newspaper. The newspaper is struggling financially, and Hanford concocts a fake story idea to drum up some interest in the paper. But along the way, his plot goes horribly wrong and the three fellows who are in co-hoots with him, basically double cross him. Part of Hanford's plan was to end up in jail and later be exhonerated. But his three accomplices realize it's a great opportunity for each of them to take advantage of the situation and pin the blame on Hanford.

There is a lot of action in this movie. Houdini does a lot of escapes in the movie too. Early in the film, some of his fellow reporters handcuff him while he is napping in the newsroom. He wakes suddenly to find himself confined, but he frees himself to their astonishment. Later in the movie he does another multi-handcuff escape and in addition frees himself from a jail cell by scaling down the wall. No safety line for ole Houdini, he's doing all his own stunts and they're quite amazing.

The one stunt he does not do is the mid-air exchange between the two airplanes. But having watched the scene and realizing that these are propeller driven planes, whoever that stuntman was, sure was brave (or crazy). The mid-air collision of the two planes was an accident that was captured on film and later incorporated into the story.

There were a few moments in the movie I especially liked. There is a scene where the  security guard for the Cameron Estate shows up with a shotgun and corner's Houdini. Then Houdini with his hands up, has a pistol pop out of his sleeve and he overtakes the guard. Pretty cool bit of sleight of gun there.

Another scene that I got a kick out of is later in the film where Houdini takes a sword away from a fellow while they're fighting and Houdini throws the sword across the room which impales itself into a wall, right next to the face of a woman. Pretty startling little effect there.

Seeing Houdini though do his escapes is the best part of the film, and these include: handcuffs, jails, straitjackets and ropes. I also enjoyed the playful quality Houdini shows on film which is quite different from the often super serious images of him in photographs. It helps to make Houdini more human. I frankly thought Houdini was a fine actor, in fact, better than the other males in the film who were prone to a lot of over-acting. Houdini came across quite natural and believable.

If you've not seen The Grim Game, you should watch for a reply by TCM. I enjoyed the second showing of the movie with the alternative soundtrack. The music fit the action much better whereas in the other score the soundtrack became repetitive and at some points worked against the movie.

The Grim Game, two thumbs up from me!

By the way, it was very cool seeing John Cox-Wild About Houdini mentioned in the Special Thanks column. Also, was glad to Dick Brookz and Dorothy Dietrich were mentioned during both showings on TCM and they also make it into the Special Thanks credits as The Houdini Museum!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Houdini the Movie Star Debuts on TCM Tonight!

How ironic is it that almost 100 years later, Houdini would be making a movie debut on television. His recently rescued and restored movie The Grim Game airs tonight on Turner Classic Movies(TCM). The story of how it was recovered and restored has been covered many times and on many websites. And, it has been shown to probably thousands of people now. It first made it's debut at the TCM Movie Festival earlier in the year. Then it was shown in various locations across the country.

A lot of magicians have seen the movie at this point, because it was shown at a major magic
convention. I however, being the recluse that I am, have not seen it. Actually, I haven't seen it mainly because my performing schedule this year has not allowed me the free time to venture out and see it. I came really close a few months ago when Dick Brooks and Dorothy Dietrich had a showing in Pennsylvania, but even that I was unable to swing. So, for me, the Magic Detective, I'll be seeing The Grim Game for the first time ever! It's pretty wild too considering one of my all time favorite Houdini posters, was actually a poster for this movie. Years ago there was a book called The World's Greatest Magicians by Hyla Clark, and within the chapter on Houdini, was this incredible full color poster of Houdini in a straitjacket, hanging upside down from a building. The colors and imagery were captivating and still are. (see image below)

Now, tonight, everyone who has access to TCM has the opportunity to see Houdini at his best. Many reviews that I've read point out that this was by far Houdini's best movie. And others make a point of saying that Houdini was actually a very good actor, contrary to what some have said about his other movies. To me, it doesn't really matter. All that matters is this chance to see Houdini in action. The mind conjures up so many images of what a person could be like when you read books about them, but to see them captured on film it adds another dimension. Yes, I have seen the other Houdini movies, and I enjoyed them all. But THIS movie, The Grim Game was the one I always wanted to see and precious little remained of it, until now.

Who do we have to thank for all this? Larry Weeks for holding on to the only surviving copy of the movie all these many years. Dick and Dorothy of the Houdini Museum for their tireless work in getting this movie back out to the public. Without their efforts, it's possible we would never see the movie. Rick Schmidlin, the restoration producer, and TCM for all their efforts behind the scenes and for bringing the movie to national prominence. There are others to thank as well, like ALL the Houdini blog writers who wrote stories of this movie and have continued to promote Houdini so many years after he passed on. And all the Houdini fans that continue to keep his spirit alive!
Thank you all!

Oct 18th, 8pm and 11:45 pm on TCM, Turner Classic Movies.

UPDATE: I can now officially say I've seen The Grim Game. Wow! What an enjoyable flicker. And the music score that some have said is repetitive, is SO REPETITIVE! Whoa! Now the next showing at 11:45pm will have a different score, so I'm going to set the DVR to record that one and watch it tomorrow. I'll put up my review of the movie once I watch the other version.
#HoudiniEffect #Houdini #TheGrimGame

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Some Grim News, But It's All Good

Sunday Night, TCM will be airing for the first time EVER, Houdini's greatest movie The Grim Game. You will be witnessing history in more ways than one. Of course, the first showing on TV is history making in itself. From what I understand the first showing at 8pm will have the same score used in the previous viewings of the movie this year. That score was done by Brane Zivkovic under the supervision of Rick Schmidlin, the restoration producer. However, the second viewing at 11:45pm, will contain a new score done by Steve Sterner. Mr. Sterner is known as The Piano Man of the Silent Screen. Why? Read on.

Apparently, the one complaint with the early viewings, was that the score of the movie was a bit repetitive. This was first brought up by Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brooks during an early version of the restoration. They made suggestions but apparently were ignored.

During the original showing in Hollywood, the praise for the movie was universal, and the one negative point was the repetitive score, which most agreed was very good at times, but needed more to it. So now, on October 18th, you get a chance to hear the first score at 8pm and then the newer score at 11:45pm. Set your DVRs it's going to be one great night for HOUDINI!

There was a lot more drama that went on behind the scenes while trying to get this movie restored. To read more about what went on, check out what Dick Brooks and Dorothy Dietrich had to say. They were instrumental in getting this movie out to the public and frankly, we would likely not be watching it at all if it were not for their efforts. They have done an incredible amount of fantastic work keeping HOUDINI's name alive and thriving into the 21st Century!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A Special TCM Thanks For Dorothy and Dick

I was not present at the special screening of The Grim Game last Sunday at the TCM Classic Film Festival. I was surely there in spirit however. Much has been made about how this 'lost' movie found it's way to the light of day. Frankly, it was Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz who took the initiative to get the ball rolling and thankfully helped in bringing this film to the light of day again.

In addition to all Dorothy and Dick did for The Grim Game, they were also special guests at the TCM Classic Film Festival and they gave an introduction to Houdini. Before the screening of The Grim Game, Dorothy presented a straightjacket escape and did a card routine using one of Houdini's actual vests. It set the mood for what was about to happen and the folks at the TCM Classic Film Festival were thrilled. They sent Dorothy and Dick a very glowing letter of thanks, and D&D shared it with me to share with you all.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Grim Game-Houdini's Best Movie

I believe it is tonight, March 27th, when a whole new generation of people will get to see, for the first time, the cinematic magic of HOUDINI. Not, Tony Curtis, Paul Michael Glaser, Harvey Keitel or some other actor portraying Houdini, but instead, the real honest to goodness Harry Houdini. Tonight, at the TCM Film Festival, audiences will get to see The Grim Game for the first time in many many years. As far as the motion picture industry was concerned, this movie was lost. Only a small 5 minute segment of film seemed to remain from the original print. The magic world, at least some of us in the magic world knew otherwise. We knew a print existed though it's condition was anyone's guess.

Thankfully, through the tireless work of Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brooks from the Houdini Museum in Scranton, Rick Schmidlin a Film Preservationist, along with Turner Classic Movies the movie was purchased from it's previous own, Houdini collector Larry Weeks and tonight the movie will make it's 21st Century debut.

I have a wish, and I doubt it would come true, but I would love to see this movie get released to movie theatres all over the country and then perhaps find it's way to get nominated by the Academy Awards Committee for some honor. If nothing else, perhaps it's time to recognize HOUDINI for his contribution to Movie Making.

Oh, by the way, I was slightly incorrect when I said that HOUDINI aka Tony Curtis wasn't going to be there. Actually, according to the list of movies at the Festival, the 1953 Paramount movie HOUDINI, starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, will be showing at the Turner Classic Movie Film Festival. I know we will get a full report from our friend John Cox about these movies. And I'm sure we will hear from Dick and Dorothy as well as they will be at the festival as well. Exciting times to be a Houdini fan!

UPDATE: Ok, I got the date wrong! It's tomorrow night. That doesn't make me any less excited about this. I'm going to throw things over to John Cox who is THERE and has been following this much better than I have. John runs WildAboutHoudini and if you don't know that you are either new to all this stuff or living under a rock. Here is his latest post about the movie,

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Story of HOW the Grim Game Was Revived

Recently, the news came out that The Grim Game was being restored and would soon appear again. This is possibly Houdini's best movie and also one that hasn't been seen by the masses since it came out in 1919. Thanks to the ongoing efforts of Dick Brookz and Dorothy Dietrich from the Houdini Museum, we have the story. And a BIG THANK YOU to both of them for once again making the impossible possible!

Houdini Museum in Scranton PA Reveals the Secrets of 
Uncovering Houdini's 1919 Lost Silent Film The Grim Game

Magicians Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz, from the Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA, tell the story of the finding and restoration of the long lost Houdini silent movie from 1919, "The Grim Game\u001D". Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz from The Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA revealed, "The film has not been shown to the general public for 96 years. This was one of the most sought after items in Houdini History."

Houdini's movie Grim Game made in 1919, has been unavailable until now and considered lost. Brookz commented, "The only complete copy of the film was hidden in the collection of juggler Larry Weeks who got it from Houdini's wife after Houdini died. I have known Larry since I was in my early teens. Larry trusted us and knew we would never do any thing that was not in his best interest. He knew with us involved it would be done in a proper way to protect his legacy. We even put together and host his web site"

Dorothy and Dick had kept a friendly relationship with Larry Weeks and that is what helped to make this happen. Juggler Larry Weeks called himself "Houdini's biggest fan" and amassed one of the best Houdini collections in the world, specializing in films of Houdini. He had the only print of Houdini's lost film, "The Grim Game hidden away in his collection." He was known to show it at various occasions in his life time. It is reputed to be the best of Houdini's five films. Dick Brookz commented "Over the years Larry invited us to see the film on two occasions. He found it odd and incomprehensible when I, Dick Brookz, told him that some magicians berated him for hoarding the movie that he preserved over the years at great personal cost." Dietrich added "Our show business contact for negotiations, film producer and friend for over 20 years, Rick Schmidlin, was the right person to bring this project to fruition. Rick Schmidlin's mother, who we also knew, lived nearby The Houdini Museum. In April of 2014 Rick Schmidlin made another one of his occasional visits to The Houdini Museum in Scranton. At that meeting we decided to tell him about the whereabouts of The Grim Game and our long time friendship with Larry Weeks We called Larry Weeks on his private number and told him about Rick and our desire to have the film restored. It took several calls to convince Larry to meet with Rick. Larry finally agreed and gave us permission to pass along Larry's number. Rick set up a meeting and arranged to acquire the film for Turner Classic Movies. Rick had to jump through a lot of hoops and clear several hurdles with tough negotiations. In the end, Rick put the pieces together to get the film, have it restored and added an original movie score. The wonderful thing is that the film content is complete., although it required a lot of restoration. Just prior to this time we had spoken with Larry several times and he informed us of his rapidly diminishing health so time was of the essence. The deal was made!" Larry Weeks died October 13, 2014, before the public would get news of the acquisition on January 23, 2015.

The restored film will have an musical score composed by Brane Zivkovic an award winning film, television, and theatre composer. This was all done with financial help from Turner Classic Movies, who will premiere it at the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival held Thursday, March 26 - Sunday, March 29, 2015, in Hollywood.
Dietrich continued, "We are so proud to have accomplished this. To know that essentially every magician in the world big and small, will get the thrill of viewing this wonderful Houdini movie because of us. This includes future magicians for all time, as well as millions of non magicians. It was our goal to get this to someone who would release it to the public and not hoard in their cellar or a back room somewhere. Background information.

The Houdini Museum located in Scranton, PA is the only building in the world dedicated to Houdini. It has been put together by well known professional magicians Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz. The Houdini Museum has also taken on the responsibility of taking care of the abandoned Houdini Grave site, and recently replaced Houdini's missing bust that was destroyed 40 years ago by vandals.

Dorothy Dietrich is considered the leading female magician and escape artist in the world having been called "the First Lady of Magic," and "The Female Houdini." She has appeared in countless Television specials including "You Asked For It", a Bill Cosby Special, " The Tomorrow Show", "Atlantic City Alive",  " Evening Magazine", "Just For The Record, the Best Of Everything", Montel Williams, etc. She was Special Guest Star in HBO's "The World's Greatest Escapes," costarring movie legend Tony Curtis, in which she escaped hanging from the bottom of a parachute ride hundreds of feet in the air while hanging from a singe piece of rope that was set on fire and she is the only women in history to accomplish The Jinxed Bullet Catch in the mouth, the one stunt Houdini backed out of. The stunt has killed over 13 men and injured many others. This stunt was done at Resorts International in Atlantic City. Both stand as world records to this day. When not doing crazy stunts such as these she travels with a magic show that features doves, a duck, a rabbit and two pet poodles. When in her home town of Scranton she appears on a regular basis on stage of The Houdini Museum.

Dick Brookz has been a professional magician his entire life. He has fronted for Bobby Darin, Jack Jones, Neil Sedaka at performed at such venues as #1 Fifth Ave, The Rainbow Grill, The Americana Hotel and Casino in Puerto Rico, Aruba Hotel and Casino, etc. For a while in his spare time he wrote songs, one that became a "bubble gum" hit in the mid-west, "Powerhouse" that ended up being the theme song for the candy bar of the same name. Dick Brooks owned The Magic Towne House on the affluent Upper East Side of Manhattan. He pulled Brother Theodore out of retirement in the last 1970's for special weekend midnight performances. This resulted in a resurgence of interest in Brother Theodore that brought Brother Theodore success in his later years. The show was a success and ran for several seasons.

Rick Schmidlin is a film preservationist, silent film scholar, and a producer-director whose work has focused on restorations, reconstructions and documentaries. Rick is the only filmmaker to ever receive awards for two consecutive years from The National Society of Film Critics and The Los Angeles Film Critics Association.
To see this release with pictures go to

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Me and Houdini 1953

I have a personal annual tradition, on Halloween each year I watch the 1953 HOUDINI movie starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. This was the movie that first inspired me to get into magic and search out the life and world of Houdini. IF you're new to The Magic Detective, my name is Dean Carnegie and I'm a full time magician and have been for nearly 20 years. Let me tell you about my early days and how this movie played a role in my magic life.

The movie starts with a fun scene with a young Houdini performing as part of a side show. Among the tricks he does is vanishing some milk and turning it into evaporated milk. Seeing this tonight sparked a great deal of memories that I had long forgotten. The memory of a young 7 year old boy pouring milk into a paper cone, only to have it gush all over the kitchen floor. Then only a couple years later to add the Vanishing Milk to my early shows....doing it the correct way at that point.

I remembered my fondness for Hamburg 8 handcuffs, and that was due to the scene in the movie where Houdini is short some money and his wife questions him and he says he had a chance to get 'a bargain' and produces the cuffs. A moment later he escapes from them and I remember being quite struck with the way that escape was done. Tonight as I was watching the movie and recalling my first set of Hamburg 8s it occurred to me that my cuffs may have been stolen about a year ago today. When I say stolen, it's more likely that I forgot them and someone picked them up and they're gone now. I've searched a number of times for them and I can't find them anywhere...though my storage unit is a nightmare so they might still be there.

I remember the scene with someone I always looked up to and actually used to correspond with fairly
often, Bill Larsen. This is the very same Mr. Larsen who would later go on to run Genii Magazine and along with his brother Milt, the Magic Castle. Bill appears in the movie during the scene where Harry and Bess attend a dinner which turns out to be a Halloween Magicians Dinner.

That also triggered the memory of meeting Mr. Larsen for the first time. Not at the Magic Castle however. It turns out that the very first time I went to see Le Grand David in Beverly Mass, that Bill and his wife Irene were also attending for the very first time. I saw Mrs. Larsen standing by herself in the back of the theatre and I looked around and sure enough there was Bill Larsen. I went up and introduced myself and got to speak with him for several minutes. Sadly, that was the only time I would ever get to meet Bill. But his kindness and all his advice he had given me through his letters have always meant a lot.

One of the many wonderful things about this movie is that Tony and Janet actually do perform a lot of the magic. There is a scene were the are performing the Houdini-Metamorphosis trick, also known as The Substitution Trunk or Sub Trunk. It's a great scene and if you watch closely you'll see Janet Leigh struggling to catch her breath during the shot. The whole scene is shot with one camera I believe, no cut-aways. 

Now as strange as it is, I never really added the Sub Trunk to my show. I did perform it a couple times, but I think because so many other acts were doing the sub trunk I just left it out. That didn't stop a young 8 year old magic fan from doing escapes from trunks. That's right, my first magic show that I ever did featured and escape from a large blue box, which was actually my toy box that my Dad had built. I had my brother and best friend Billy wrap the outside with ropes and chains and locks and I escaped at the end of the show from this trunk. I didn't have handcuffs at the time, so my hands were wrapped in a bicycle chain and I got out of those as well. I was a daring 8 year old.

Years later I actually built a sub trunk with my Dad. But again, rather than use it as the regular Substitution Trunk routine, I used it as a packing box escape. I would leave the box and the lid at a venue for examination. We'd put a big poster on the box promoting the show. Then at showtime I would climb inside that thing and get out. I still remember the reaction from a friend who had hired me to do this very thing. I knew he had spent a good deal of time with the box and the lid and he was dumbfounded when I got out. Come to think of it, that was a Halloween gig too.

Another scene that always stuck with me was a brief scene just before Houdini attempts the escape
from the Pagoda Torture Cell. In the scene two gentlemen come up with a challenge restraint, a Steel Straight Jacket. Oh my God, that was the coolest thing I had ever seen! All my life I always wanted one of those. Then...I got one. I was no longer 8 years old, lol. The first routines I did with the Steel Straight Jacket were similar to what was done in the movie. I did that for a while until I realized there was more that could be done. In one show, I presented the SSJ kind of like the sub trunk, in that I was in the jacket first, and then a few moments later, I was free and the jacket was on a friend of mine.

Still later, as my mind moved from thoughts of magic and into escapes, I saw the potential for even stronger routines. I used the SSJ to close the show at my Underground Magic Theatre for one season. That was also the year that I met Steve Baker the famous escape artist known as Mr. Escape. I sent him a video of the routine and we talked about ways to improve it further. He had so many fantastic ideas and there was no way to include them all. But the key ones I did eventually use. The last time I performed the SSJ was at the National Theatre in Washington D.C.. I performed it two times and during the first show wanted to test out an idea. I had always heard that modern audiences would not sit through long drawn out escapes like they did in the time of Houdini. But I always heard this from folks who didn't do escapes. So I figured, why not test the theory. I struggled and struggles and even tore my shirt and did some very unorthodox things to get out of the jacket. The audience sat there spellbound. In the show that followed I did the SSJ again, but this time without all the lengthy drama. There were people present who had seen both shows and they immediately asked about the difference in the performances when it was over. They were very intrigued and frankly, I was thrilled with their interest.

At the conclusion of the movie, Tony Curtis as Houdini dies trying to attempt the Pagoda Torture Cell or what we know as the Water Torture Cell. This scene and an earlier scene where Houdini is trapped under the frozen Detroit River after doing a packing box escape, made me very aware of the dangers of escapes and water. But it didn't stop me, I was just careful. I used to practice several times a week escaping from handcuffs underwater. My method was quite ingenious. At the time, we lived on a farm. I would clean out the water troughs that were used for the horses and fill them full of clean water and work on the escapes underwater. My chosen method of escape was picking the cuffs underwater. At the time I was unaware of something called 'bridge jumpers'. But it was still good training.

Here is an interesting thing I had also forgotten. When the movie opens up, this picture is the first
thing you see. Houdini's name written in Black and Red bold faced letters. Don't ask me why this stuck in my brain, but it did. Not long after I had decided to do magic full time, I had a huge banner made with my name written just like that, in black and red letters. It was to promote a series of theatre shows and it looked very cool.

It's amazing to think just how much that movie inspired and even shaped my magic career. A lot of it I really didn't pay much attention to, but now that I look back, it's quite ironic. And to think, most of that movie was fiction! What kind of trouble could have I gotten into if they had made a truthful movie??? Well, they did eventually with Paul Michael Glaser. That movie was called The Great Houdinis. And yes, that movie also played a part in my early magic years, but that's a story for another time.

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 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.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Revelation of Houdini's Tricks in the Movie is a Load of Crap

How is that for a headline?! And it's TRUE, by the way. Yes, there suddenly is a lot of controversy surrounding the Houdini Miniseries by the HISTORY Channel, because the star of the movie, Adrien Brody has let it be known they reveal how Houdini did his tricks.


That's from Houdini's own mouth. You might be able to figure out one thing or two, but he used multiple methods. So my issue with the idea they are going to reveal his tricks is, how exactly? You can't really do it. Harry Handcuff Houdini didn't have one
Darby Handcuffs
method to escape from handcuffs. First, there are a lot of different types of handcuffs and that means you're open to quite a few methods of escape. Take the handcuff known as Darbys for example. With this one style of cuff, I can think of five different methods off the top of my head that can be used to escape from this cuff and not one includes using a duplicate key. You could spend over an hour just discussing methods for handcuff escapes and you still wouldn't cover all of them.

You see, unless Houdini had only ONE method for escaping, then I don't see how you can actually reveal anything. You can reveal one technique, maybe two, but that's about it. And a skilled escape artist like Houdini was known for revealing these techniques as the methods used by his imitators and then using different techniques himself. This is how he stayed one step ahead of his competitors.

Here is another example, The Milk Can escape. The method for this has been revealed in magazines, books and newspapers for years. But did you know the inventor of the Milk Can, Montraville Wood, actually created 8 different methods for escaping the can. There is a supposed method that is fairly well known. However, consider how impractical this method becomes when Houdini introduced the wooden box, known as the Double Fold Death Defying Mystery. This is where the Milk Can was first placed inside a wooden crate, then Houdini would get inside, the lid would be locked on the Milk Can and then an outer wooden lid would be locked on the box. Houdini couldn't escape even IF the lid hadn't been locked because the wooden lid of the box prevents the top of the Milk Can from being removed. So that secret is worthless. And the modern versions of the Milk Can used by a very select few escape artists today, use a method that is totally different from Houdini's real secret.

Hollywood sadly, has tried again and again to reveal the secrets to Houdini's tricks thinking that this is what audiences want to see. But Hollywood, HELLO, you're wrong again. Houdini was more than his tricks. His life story is what is fascinating, and the magic and escapes are part of that, but the secrets to the tricks are irrelevant. In fact, what you do by exposing the methods is cheapen the mystery that surrounds the man. What you should focus on is the mind of the man who could come up with countless methods to present his unbelievable escapes. Competitors and imitators would try and expose Houdini in the press and yet Houdini would go out and fool people with the very same effects and generally make his competition look foolish. Why? Because the real secret to his tricks was HOUDINI the man. HE was what audiences clamored to see. His charisma, his magnetism, his unfathomable presentations. This is why he could present an effect as small as the East Indian Needle Trick on the largest stages and blow away audiences. This is why he could walk through a brick wall and leave people speechless. Because HE was the MAGIC, he surpassed the tricks and became larger than life regardless of what he was doing. Further proof of that can be found in the number of magicians who present his effects and yet have not come anywhere close to attaining the fame and fortune that Houdini did. Read what Houdini himself had to say on this exact topic...

"Mere novelty and mastery are not enough- the emphatic personal equation must be there- the audience must be impressed not only with the wonder of the illusion, but also with the charm or novelty of the performer's personality." Houdini from The Billboard, Oct 1, 1921*

In the big picture, I don't think it really hurts or helps to expose Houdini's methods. As a magician,
we might find them interesting, some might find them archaic, others just boring. Lay people might think that the method is ingenious or so simple it's amazing no one could figure it out. Tony Curtis picks a jail lock with a piece of wire around his toe.......really? You think this is what Houdini did? Paul Michael Glaser secretly puts a key on the back of a policeman while he is being searched and then later retrieves it and escapes. Stories circulate that Houdini escaped from the Mirror Cuffs by having Bess pass Houdini the key in a kiss.......A key that is over 6 inches long, really??? Are these really his secrets? I don't think so.

As long as the movie's story is compelling, I don't think lay audiences will retain the secrets to the methods because at the end of the day, they are only important to magicians. And we'll just keep creating new methods if older ones are revealed....this is the same thing HOUDINI did and would still do today! And now, I'll let Houdini have the final word on his secrets...

"Some Say I do it this way, others say I do it that way, but I say I do it the other way." HOUDINI The Pittsburgh Leader, March 1, 1908*

*Though both of these quotes are from different periodicals, I found them both referenced in the fantastic book HOUDINI-The Key by Patrick Culliton, and wanted to be sure to credit his book as the true source in my case.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A New Twist on the End of HOUDINI by Tony Curtis

 In the world of Houdini, one of the most beloved movies is the Paramount 1953 version with Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. It also happens to be one of the most frustrating because of the ending. Magicians know that Houdini died from Peritonitis after having been punched in the stomach by J. Gordon Whitehead.

The HOUDINI movie with Tony Curtis shows a different end to Houdini's life. In the movie, he dies attempting the Pagoda Torture Cell Escape. So iconic was this ending that for many years lay people thought that was the way Houdini actually died.

That brings me to this little story. A close friend related the story of meeting Tony Curtis during one of his Art Gallery showings a few years before he died. They struck up a conversation and as is probably the case, the talk turned to his movies. My friend brought up the ending of the Houdini movie and why they chose to go with a fictitious ending.

Before I tell you what he said, I have heard many reasons. One, is that the students involved in the incident (when he was punched) were still alive and the studio feared being sued.  Another was that the studio wanted a more dramatic ending to the movie.

What I never heard is what Tony Curtis told my friend. He said "We shot the ending with the punch and it didn't play very strong for test audiences. So we shot the alternate ending where I die in the attempt of escaping from the big tank of water." I have never heard that before. I totally believe that he said it, but I'm not sure if I believe that it's true. IF it is true, that means that the movie many of us came to love had the potential to be a very different movie. In fact, still shots from other scenes have surfaced over the years, like the Milk Can, and the Airpline Transfer from the Grim Game.

Again, I must say I do believe Tony Curtis said it, but I'm not sure I believe it. I'm wondering if anyone else has heard this story?