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By the early 1900s, the extraordinary Houdini earned an international
reputation for his theatrical tricks and daring feats of extrication
from shackles, ropes, handcuffs, and Scotland Yard's jails...
The film depicts Houdini's memorable escape from any pair of handcuffs produced by the audience; the outdoor exhibition, when he allows himself to be hanged upside down from his ankles, suspended from the roof of a high building, in a strait jacket; and, the dramatic act, when he accepts to be shackled with irons and placed in a box that is locked, roped, and submerged in frozen waters...
The film also exposes Houdini's campaign against mind readers, fraudulent mediums and others who claim supernatural powers... Houdini shows a passionate talent for escapology and the film did much to create the 'Water Torture Cell' illusion...
With his pretty-boy looks, Tony Curtis handles the title role with passionate skill... His energetic performance, as the talented and motivated magician, is very good...
With good period atmosphere, but with more attention to romance than to interesting detail, the film is quite enjoyable and colorful...
Janet Leigh does a great job as Houdini's faithful wife...
Tony Curtis is almost always good in whomever he plays, and he was
fascinating in here as the famous magician "Harry Houdini." Curtis had
a number of good roles in his prime. Speaking of "prime," Janet Leigh
didn't look too bad in her prime, either: a very pretty lady.
I don't know how accurate this biography was, but I do know that this movie should have been longer. I usually say the opposite about films, but in this case, I would like to have seen more details about his life and death. His failure to communicate with dead - Houdini's misguided belief - wasn't discussed much.
I guess there were a couple of more modern-day films on Houdini, but they must not have been anything much since I never heard about them. Too bad, because a good re-make of this movie might be something to see.
If it wasn't for the movies and the books on Harry Houdini's life he
would fall into a category of un-interesting performers who only could
do one thing perform
He lived in a time where his talents were in great demand and despite the fact that this film is not accurate it is lovingly presented by Paramount a **Color Film** in a time where Black and White films were still commonplace, Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh at the peak of their building careers and George Marshall a veteran director of close to 120 films
They knew what they were doing when the movie partially fictionalized Houdini's life possibly because he was a one note person, a magician, an escape artist, a performer
The movie is excellent!! and that is all that matters, if I am not mistaken almost every remake has fictionalized his life in one way or another, this movie is a true gem!!
..since he is and has been an amateur magician, Curtis was perfect to portray Houdini, the master magician and above all.. the master escape artist! A beautiful technicolor film that has the atmosphere of vaudeville and showbiz of the day, it invokes the mystery of the great showman's lifestyle and his unusual death on Halloween. Janet Leigh,as Houdini's wife, Bess, adds to the fun... and for those that love magic and magicians, this will satisfy you. The early life, the escapes from ropes, chains and jail cells the world-over, from the icy waters of rivers and lakes, it is all here. Slicked up naturally not so much to educate us, but to entertain.. ...!
Even over 80 years after his demise the name Houdini is still the
standard by which magicians of all kinds are measured. David
Copperfield, Rick Blaine, these guys are nothing in terms of popularity
that Harry Houdini earned. The tricks he did are still being performed
or attempted by magicians who want to make a name for themselves.
Paramount obtained the rights to the Houdini story from the estate of Harry Houdini from the guy his widow Bess gave it to after she died in 1943. They shelled out some big money at the time to obtain loan out services for Tony Curtis from Universal and Janet Leigh from MGM. The two of them had gotten married the year before and as a couple were getting a lot of publicity as young Hollywood marrieds. Houdini turned out to be the first of five films they did together, six if you count the joint appearance they did in the all star Pepe.
Back then, young and in love, Tony and Janet function beautifully as a team as Harry Houdini and his beloved wife Bess. Angela Clarke plays Houdini's mother who was also important in his life. What's not shown is the tension between the two women, they were not friendly. But that's one of several inaccuracies.
In fact this biographical film is mostly a work of fiction. But it's pleasant enough entertainment and it was the first film that Tony Curtis starred in that could be considered an A production. In his memoirs he recalls the experience as a pleasant one because of Janet and director George Marshall who he says was a good man to work with and an under-appreciated talent.
One thing that is shown is Houdini's interest in the occult after the death of his mother in 1920. He did in fact go around debunking fakers in the field which is field that is saturated with them. One thing not in the film is the fact he came into conflict with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, and fervent believer in the reachable spirit world. That in itself would make an interesting film.
I'm sure if Harry Houdini were able to comment he'd probably say he liked the film. He'd have to wait for a more accurate film about his life in the Eighties from Paul Michael Glaser and Sally Struthers. But I'd be flattered all to heck to think Tony Curtis was my type.
Tony Curtis was the proper person to play Harry Houdini when this movie
was made. He had the right attitude. Janet Leigh, his wife in real life
then, was outstanding as Bess Houdini and the sparks between them show
on this film. To me the problem is the script.
The real Houdini's life was much more interesting than the points of his life presented here. The story covers some highlights of Harry's life, and a little of the special relationship with his mom. It totally leaves out Harry's brother, the great Hardine. It doesn't get into the barn storming career or the great tricks Houdini did enough.
The film also fails script wise to show how well Erich Weiss promoted himself enough. I think the script was designed for Curtis & Leigh and misses the best parts of Harry's life. From what I have seen and read about Houdini, a much more interesting story is there to be told. This story does not tell it entirely.
I am glad they tried to do what they did here. For Curtis & Leigh fans this is a great showcase. If it were to be remade, there are more highlights of Houdini's amazing life that could be written to make a better film. I'd challenge Hollywood to tackle that. For now, this is the best we've got, but I have to wonder what could have been with a better script.
What an odd coincidence, just in case you didn't know it: Harry Houdini
born in Budapest, his real name was Weisz Erik (Eric Weisz). Tony Curtis
born to parents both born in Budapest, his real name is Bernard Schwartz.
Tony Curtis, nearing his eighties, still speaks Hungarian
Budapest & Budapest ... Weisz and Schwartz - White and Black.
Though this movie is pure romantic fiction, rather than a biopic, it is thoroughly enjoyable, thanks to Ms. Leigh and Mr. Curtis. (i.e. Houdini wasn't born on Halloween's day but on 24. March in 1874, and he had escaped from the Chinese Torture Chamber a lot of times, and as such, he didn't die the way depicted in this movie - he was killed by a punch on his stomach, a trick he wasn't prepared to)
Still, see this picture if you get a chance: it is colorful and exciting.
The story of master magician Harry Houdini (18741926) becomes a glossy star-vehicle for Tony Curtis in the lead--and though the facts of Houdini's life are lumped right together with the Hollywood dross (as if this movie magazine-styled spread were one big true-life story), one is drawn in by Curtis' apparent commitment to the role. Director George Marshall stages some exciting set-pieces and a nice romance ensues between Tony's Houdini and assistant Bess, played by Curtis' real-life spouse Janet Leigh (doing appealing work). Philip Yordan adapted Harold Kellock's book, and the results are (surprisingly) entertaining despite all the requisite corn and clichés. **1/2 from ****
Spectacular biography of famed escape artist dealing with the Great
Houdini. At the outset, he had little success he performed in dime
sideshows, and even doubled as "The Wild Man .At the same the young
Houdini (Tony Curtis) enters into a passionate affair with a beautiful
girl. Harry met fellow performer Wilhelmina Beatrice (Bess) Rahner
(Janet Leigh), whom he married. Bess acts in the shows , which became
known as "The Houdinis." For the rest of Houdini's performing career,
Bess would work as his stage assistant. During Harry Houdini's tour of
Britain in 1926, the master escapist realizes a highly publicized show.
Within months, he was performing at the top vaudeville houses in the
country. In 1900, his manager arranged for Houdini to tour Europe.
After some days of unsuccessful interviews in London, Houdini managed
to interest a manager of the Alhambra Theatre. He gave a demonstration
of escape from handcuffs at Scotland Yard, and succeeded in baffling
the police so effectively that he was booked at the show.
It's a story with Harry Houdini, arguably the greatest illusionist and escape artist of our time. This is a mostly fictionalized biopic of Houdini's life, was made. It contains thrills, suspense , emotions, a romantic story and is quite entertaining . This film, well played by Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, has contributed, in part, to several misconceptions about Houdini's life. For example, it portrays the cause of Houdini's death to be the magician's failure to escape from the Chinese Water Torture Cell. (Curtis's Houdini agrees to seek medical attention "when the tour is over.") Houdini actually developed the Chinese Torture Cell trick fourteen years before he died and performed it numerous times. The motion picture is finely directed by Geoorge Marshall.
The picture is partially based on facts , the real events were the following : Houdini's "big break" came in 1899 when he met manager Martin Beck in rural Woodstock, Illinois. Impressed by Houdini's handcuffs act, Beck advised him to concentrate on escape acts and booked him on the Orpheum vaudeville circuit. Within months, he was performing at the top vaudeville houses in the country. In 1900, Beck arranged for Houdini to tour Europe. After some days of unsuccessful interviews in London, Houdini managed to interest Dundas Slater, then manager of the Alhambra Theatre. He gave a demonstration of escape from handcuffs at Scotland Yard, and succeeded in baffling the police so effectively that he was booked at the Alhambra for six months.Houdini became widely known as "The Handcuff King." He toured England, Scotland, the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Russia. In each city, Houdini would challenge local police to restrain him with shackles and lock him in their jails. In many of these challenge escapes, Houdini would first be stripped nude and searched. In Moscow, Houdini escaped from a Siberian prison transport van. Houdini claimed that, had he been unable to free himself, he would have had to travel to Siberia, where the only key was kept. In Cologne, he sued a police officer, who alleged that he made his escapes via bribery. Houdini won the case when he opened the judge's safe (he would later say the judge had forgotten to lock it). He would free himself from jails, handcuffs, chains, ropes, and straitjackets, often while hanging from a rope in plain sight of street audiences. Because of imitators, on January 25, 1908, Houdini put his "handcuff act" behind him and began escaping from a locked, water-filled milk can. The possibility of failure and death thrilled his audiences. Houdini also expanded repertoire with his escape challenge act, in which he invited the public to devise contraptions to hold him. Brewers challenged Houdini to escape from a barrel after they filled it with beer in Scranton, PA and other cities. Many of these challenges were prearranged with local merchants in what is certainly one of the first uses of mass tie-in marketing. Rather than promote the idea that he was assisted by spirits, as did the Davenport Brothers and others, Houdini's advertisements showed him making his escapes via dematerializing, although Houdini himself never claimed to have supernatural powers.Poster promoting Houdini taking up the challenge of escaping an "extra strong and large traveling basket" . In 1912, Houdini introduced perhaps his most famous act, the Chinese Water Torture Cell, in which he was suspended upside-down in a locked glass-and-steel cabinet full to overflowing with water. The act required that Houdini hold his breath for more than three minutes. Houdini performed the escape for the rest of his career. Despite two Hollywood movies depicting Houdini dying in the Torture Cell, the act had nothing to do with his death. Throughout his career, Houdini explained some of his tricks in books written for the magic brotherhood. In Handcuff Secrets (1909), he revealed how many locks and handcuffs could be opened with properly applied force, others with shoestring. Other times, he carried concealed lockpicks or keys, being able to regurgitate small keys at will. When tied down in ropes or straitjackets, he gained wiggle room by enlarging his shoulders and chest, moving his arms slightly away from his body, and then dislocating his shoulders.For most of his career, Houdini was a headline act in vaudeville. For many years, he was the highest-paid performer in American vaudeville. One of Houdini's most notable non-escape stage illusions was performed at New York's Hippodrome Theater, when he vanished a full-grown elephant (with its trainer) from the stage, beneath which was a swimming pool. In the final years of his life (1925/26), Houdini launched his own full-evening show, which he billed as "3 Shows in One: Magic, Escapes, and Fraud Mediums Exposed".
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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