Friday, September 26, 2014

Houdini on History

The big new television event this last Labor Day weekend was the two-part Houdini mini-series on The History Channel. I love Houdini. I love movies and documentaries and books about Houdini. I even love the surviving fragments of his movie serials. The man was awesome. This mini-series was... a great illusion.

Adrien Brody is in the title role and it's one that fits him well. Not only does he look like Harry Houdini both facially and in body type, he has that mysterious air about him. Despite his miscasting in Peter Jackson's King Kong, he's perfect here. Kristen Connolly is pretty fair in the role of Bess, and even though it's a cameo, it is always good to see Barry from "EastEnders."

The soundtrack, a lively rocking score by John Debney, is one of the best I've heard in some time. I'm looking forward to finding it somewhere soon. This score fits the quick cut flashy MTV way this was filmed. It's not a complaint, but a compliment. Stylistically this is an amazing piece of work, style it has, it's the other areas where it lacks.

The mini-series takes us from the magician's childhood to Harry and Bess Houdini's days on the road before he became famous to his death on stage in 1926. There is both truth and fiction here as with all Houdini stories. This version even takes into account Houdini's supposed service to the US government as a spy. And then there's a lot more iffy stuff here for a program that aired on The History Channel.

History's Houdini was keen on showing us how many stunts and tricks were done, but what it wasn't good at was telling the truth. The facts elude the movie event like the real Houdini escaping chains and cages. The Wild About Harry website had a lot to say about how far from the truth this mini-series strayed, and it's not pretty.

Now the 1960s Tony Curtis film and the 1970s Paul Michael Glaser telemovie weren't that great on the facts either, and I loved them. And I admit to liking this one as well, but in its four hours it lacks the heart the other two had in half the time. Recommended for those who aren't depending on facts or looking for more than a story that barely touches the surface.


  1. The problem was that this thing was all over the place. First it started out as a straight biopic. Then it went into "Wild Wild West" style action adventure with Harry Houdini as a spy for the U.S. on loan to Her Majesty's Secret Service. Then it tried to become a domestic drama with Houdini and his wife having martial troubles. It could never settle on what it wanted to be.

    You ask me, The History Channel passed up a sure bet by not doing an entire movie about Houdini's career as a spy in Europe. I'd sure as hell would have enjoyed that movie.

  2. I think you're right about the spy angle. That was one of the things I dug about his movie serials - the real life magician as adventurer.