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HOUDINI (1953) ***

The husband and wife team of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh star as the famed magician Harry Houdini and his loyal wife Bess in this winning biopic from director George (The Ghost Breakers) Marshall.  

 

The film begins with Houdini and Bess’s first meeting and their subsequent whirlwind courtship.  We also see Houdini travel abroad to Europe where he first gains fame as a master illusionist and showman.  After the death of his mother, Houdini takes time off from performing to focus his attention on debunking phony mystics who claim they can communicate with the dead.  When Houdini returns to the stage, he has a close call when he narrowly escapes from an icy river.  Bess begs Harry to scale down his act, but he refuses and winds up dead after performing his infamous Chinese Water Torture Escape.

 

The film is at its best when showcasing the romance between Harry and Bess.  (The scene where he saws his wife in half on their wedding night is especially memorable.)  The two stars have considerable chemistry together and their splendid performances are easily the best thing about the movie. 

 

Seeing Curtis perform Houdini’s most famous tricks is also a lot of fun, but more often than not you can see how the filmmakers staged everything (the jump cuts that hide the tricks’ seams are sometimes painfully obvious).  While screenwriter Phillip Yordan fudges a lot of facts in favor of telling a more romanticized story (Houdini died from appendicitis in a hospital and not onstage), it’s okay because the film actually works better as a love story than a straight up biopic. 

 

Yordan (who worked as a front for many blacklisted screenwriters during the 50’s) went on to pen the immortal horror classic, Night Train to Terror. 

 

Houdini is on DVD for the first time ever, courtesy of the diligent people at Legend Films who have been churning out several previously unreleased films from the Paramount Pictures vaults.  To order your copy today, go straight to Legend’s website at www.legendfilms.net.  

Tags: drama, h
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