The amazing career of master magician Harry Houdini is presented from his beginnings with a carnival "wild man" act to his emergence as an internationally-acclaimed illusionist, From his dramatic escape from a locked safe under the frozen Detroit River to an even more improbable one from a locked cell in Scotland Yard, he never failed to please and astound his audiences. Although Houdini's tricks are achieved through his marvelous physical dexterity and innate sleight-of-hand, he courted death with the hazardous illusions he performed and his compulsive quest to make contact with the spirit world. Written by
Although Houdini didn't die onstage at a Halloween performance, as this film would have you believe, he did, indeed, die on Halloween, 1926, several weeks after his last stage performance. To this day, in Houdini's memory, October 31rd is celebrated as International Magic Day. See more »
When Houdini is doing the "levitation" trick on the stage, watch as Tony Curtis passes the hoop around Janet Leigh's body: twice you can see the split in the hoop "catch" on the lifting frame behind her body. See more »
Audiences are never satisfied. They love you for th moment you please them.
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You might think this is an odd pairing in an odd biopic, Tony Curtis as the brilliant escape artist and Janet Leigh as his assistant and wife. But it works. Yes, it is a somewhat glitzy, and totally entertaining version of the man's life, but it is solid and well done. And the colors are dazzling throughout. There's no escaping that.
Curtis is a true star already, and he is his usual charming self. I don't have a clue what Houdini was like in person, but there is a suspicion while watching that Curtis keeps it all a little light and breezy. In fact the whole movie is kind of airy, even when the young couple struggles to get their lives going. Leigh is cheerfully supportive, most of the time, and ends up in a formulaic role. Luckily she gives it enough energy to make it work.
When it comes down to it, there is little to say without comparing this to Houdini's known biography. And in fact the movie keeps pretty close to what is widely known. But of course the details are all a mush in order to make a kind of fairy tale of the whole thing. That's okay as long as you see it as such.
If you want lots of detail on all this you should find the TCM article, the long one, on the web. I hope they'll forgive me stealing this one paragraph:
--Casting newlyweds Curtis and Leigh was a publicity coup for Paramount, as the public was fascinated by the young marrieds and was eager to see them together on screen. Both were under contract to other studios, so Paramount had to negotiate loan-outs, Curtis from Universal, Leigh from MGM. As a result of the complex contracts, according to Curtis's autobiography, "The studios got a lot of money for it, but we just got our regular salaries."--
This is a true Technicolor job in the old academy 4:3 format, one of the last before widescreen swept the industry in the next year. Behind the camera is the well respected Ernest Laszlo ("Impact," "D.O.A.," and "Stalag 17") who does a great job with the camera but for some reason lit everything brightly and evenly. The result is lack of mood--and many of the scenes are begging for mood, like the flea-bitten carnivals. There are some notable sequences, like the underwater stuff, and the magic tricks required some photographic slight of hand as well.
So director George Marshall, known for cranking out lots of well made if unimaginative films, has another. It's good, and if you like the two main actors or the subject--or all three--you'll really enjoy it.
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