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Old 09-02-2014, 07:50 PM   #1
Craigbob
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History Channel - Houdini Night 1 - 09/01/2014

I'll start this by stating I've been a huge fan of Harry Houdini since I was a child (Over 40 years now). I've ready everything about him that's been written, and when I was younger (and writing professionally) seriously considered writing a book about him.

I went into this miniseries with high hopes but low expectations. Hollywood for some reason does not know how to handle the subject of Houdini. Of the three major representations of Houdini's life (50's version with Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, 70's version with Paul Michael Glaser, and this one starring Adrian Brody) none have quite managed to capture the persona and life of one of the greatest performers of the 20th century.

This version of the story is based on a book written by Bernard C. Meyer back in the mid 70's called "Houdini: A mind in chains : a psychoanalytic portrait"

Film maker Nicholas Meyer ("The 7 percent solution", Star Trek The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek The Undiscovered Country) adapted the material from his father's book. While a review of the book is outside the scope of this forum, Having read it when it first came out, I and many others found it lacking. The miniseries also seems to have taken the idea that Houdini was a spy involved with British MI-5 and the Secret Service from the book "The secret lives of Houdini" Which many Houdini experts tend to take with a large pile of salt.

In regards to the miniseries, the first issue I have is the casting of Houdini and his wife Bess. In real life Houdini was short about 5'6" - 5'8" and stocky but very physically fit and buff. His wife Bess was very small and underdeveloped. Bess Houdini may have suffered from a condition called Primary Amenorrhea. Neither of the leads fit that description. Brody is tall and lanky, and Kristin Connolly as Bess is almost as tall.

The assistant Jim Collins was A: not from Macon GA, but England, and Houdini did not find him in a magic shop as portrayed.

The film jumps between time periods in a very helter skelter manner and contains many factual errors (handcuff act created in a brothel, 1914 being a down time for his career, Having issues with his father, working with a magician while a kid with a traveling circus to name just a few). I could've lived with the jumping around in time if they had correctly labeled the time periods, and had their facts correct. They also seemed to make up several things out of thin air. As it was presented I found it almost completely unwatchable.

Despite my complaints, there are several factual instances thrown in along with the falsehoods. Yes he was the 1st man to fly over Australia. He did love his mother very much and did treat her as a queen for the day, there are a lot of other accurate details, but only the most dedicated Houdiniphile would be able to separate the fact from the fiction.

I've heard Night 2 is better, and I certainly hope so, since it can't get much worse.
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Old 09-03-2014, 07:15 AM   #2
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I watched the first episode and I enjoyed it. Like just about all of these docudramas, if you know a LOT about the subject, you are going to find a lot lacking, and a lot of misinformation. They tend to over dramatized things on TV to hold the interest of the audience. Or at least they think that. Knowing very little about Houdini, I found his life fascinating. I had no idea he was a spy (and then again you say that it's only speculation and there are things that point to that being untrue...oh well). I am looking forward to watching Part 2. I wouldn't count on Part 2 being any more factual than Part 1, but I'm sure I will enjoy it.
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Old 09-03-2014, 07:59 AM   #3
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I first heard of this show last night when I saw a commercial for it. While watching the commercial, I was wondering if it was a show/movie about Houdini. I didn't think it was, because Adrian Brody just didn't look like what I picture Houdini to look like. When it finally said Houdini at the end, I was surprised.

The commercial didn't interest me enough to set a recording for the show.
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Old 09-03-2014, 08:09 AM   #4
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I found it interesting watching Houdini after just having watched the movie Now You See Me, which is about a bunch of magicians who pull off heists through the use of magic.
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Old 09-03-2014, 11:08 AM   #5
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I watched the first installment last night and found it somewhat interesting. I know virtually nothing about him, though, so I guess it's a shame if they are portraying events inaccurately.

I can see some dramatic embellishment but if a lot of the stuff is just patently false, that's really wrong.
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Old 09-03-2014, 11:14 AM   #6
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I was not expecting much in the way of facts but I did enjoy it quite a bit more than expected on a pure entertainment level.
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Old 09-03-2014, 12:09 PM   #7
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Great write up! I had not heard of this but will be checking it out.

And yes, with all of these type of series/shows I take everything with a grain of salt, but figure the overall story is true or really close.
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Old 09-03-2014, 01:03 PM   #8
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I've been into magic for many years, I haven't watched this yet but plan to do so. The best book I've read about him is The Secret Life of Houdini by Larry Sloman. Very interesting, I enjoyed the parts about the spying he did in Europe around WWI.
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Old 09-03-2014, 02:57 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by VegasVic View Post
I've been into magic for many years, I haven't watched this yet but plan to do so. The best book I've read about him is The Secret Life of Houdini by Larry Sloman. Very interesting, I enjoyed the parts about the spying he did in Europe around WWI.
The problem with that book, is a lot of the spying is conjecture. There is very little hard evidence of his spying, and none that the Chicago pd helped promote him and aided his rise to fame. The wild about Houdini website goes into more detail about this. http://www.wildabouthoudini.com/2006...-life-spy.html

A better book us Ken Silverman's The Career of Ehrich Weiss.
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Old 09-03-2014, 03:04 PM   #10
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Great write up! I had not heard of this but will be checking it out.

And yes, with all of these type of series/shows I take everything with a grain of salt, but figure the overall story is true or really close.
Unfortunately in this case, there is more wrong than right. The overall story is akin to a stick figure drawing of the "Last Supper" where you moved the apostles around and added aliens and Disney characters then compared it to the actual painting. Yeah, you might get the gist, but details are wrong and in some cases made up.
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Old 09-03-2014, 03:08 PM   #11
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Unfortunately in this case, there is more wrong than right. The overall story is akin to a stick figure drawing of the "Last Supper" where you moved the apostles around and added aliens and Disney characters then compared it to the actual painting. Yeah, you might get the gist, but details are wrong and in some cases made up.
For someone that enjoys stuff like this but doesn't know a whole lot about him, is it even worth watching?
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Old 09-03-2014, 05:41 PM   #12
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For someone that enjoys stuff like this but doesn't know a whole lot about him, is it even worth watching?
That's a hard question to answer. If you keep in mind that there are a lot inaccuracies and unfounded suppositions, it will give you a sense of his life. Hopefully it interests you enough to seek out more accurate sources of information.

The 2nd night is better than the first, albeit 30 minutes shorter. Perhaps the best way of thinking about it, is as a fictionalized look at Houdini's life with just enough truth set amidst the lies to keep it interesting.
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Old 09-04-2014, 07:44 AM   #13
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For someone that enjoys stuff like this but doesn't know a whole lot about him, is it even worth watching?
I enjoyed it. I'm sure much of it was not how it happened, but I got the gist of who he was a bit of history of the times. Interesting enough to keep me watching.

One interesting thing about Ep2 which was different than what I had heard about him (spoilered as this is an Ep1 thread)

Spoiler:
I had always heard that he died doing the Chinese Water chamber trick and that he drowned inside the chamber, but they depict him dying by getting beaten up by a thug (I guess) hired by Arthur Conan Doyle) and having his appendics ruptured. That surprised me.

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Old 09-04-2014, 08:34 AM   #14
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I've always been a fan of Houdini. He's the original Ghost Buster. Who couldn't love that.

I was looking at his Wiki and the first aerial flight in Australia was actually wrong. Someone else did it earlier. But this may be in dispute.

I wish he'd have lived longer. It would have been interesting to see what else he would do.
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Old 09-04-2014, 10:14 AM   #15
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True that the spying is mostly conjecture but governments did use entertainers as spies in those days. They could travel without suspicion and someone like Houdini would awe leaders of other countries and perhaps see/hear some things others wouldn't have access to. It's interesting even if unprovable.
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Old 09-04-2014, 12:15 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by Steveknj View Post
I enjoyed it. I'm sure much of it was not how it happened, but I got the gist of who he was a bit of history of the times. Interesting enough to keep me watching.

One interesting thing about Ep2 which was different than what I had heard about him (spoilered as this is an Ep1 thread)

Spoiler:
I had always heard that he died doing the Chinese Water chamber trick and that he drowned inside the chamber, but they depict him dying by getting beaten up by a thug (I guess) hired by Arthur Conan Doyle) and having his appendics ruptured. That surprised me.
That myth was first perpetrated by the 1953 movie Houdini starring Tony Curtis (a much better physical match for the real Houdini than Adrian Brody).

Spoiler:
He wasn't actually beaten up by a thug, and much about the fatal punch is not clear. What is is known, is that in October of 1926, while performing in Montreal, Canada, Houdini was punched in his dressing room by a McGill University student named J. Gordon Whitehead. Whitehead struck Houdini several times before he was ready. Houdini ignored the pain and increasing fever and pushed on to his next engagement in Detroit. After struggling through a performance with a 104 degree temperature, Houdini gave into doctor's orders and was rushed to Grace Hospital where he died several days later.

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Old 09-04-2014, 12:25 PM   #17
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I've always been a fan of Houdini. He's the original Ghost Buster. Who couldn't love that.

I was looking at his Wiki and the first aerial flight in Australia was actually wrong. Someone else did it earlier. But this may be in dispute.

I wish he'd have lived longer. It would have been interesting to see what else he would do.
Here's an interesting analysis about the flight, including the possible earlier flights (http://www.wildabouthoudini.com/2010...ni-showed.html). For what it's worth, Officially Australia aviation history recognizes Houdini as the 1st to fly there.
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Old 09-04-2014, 12:47 PM   #18
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Here's an interesting analysis about the flight, including the possible earlier flights (http://www.wildabouthoudini.com/2010...ni-showed.html). For what it's worth, Officially Australia aviation history recognizes Houdini as the 1st to fly there.
That certainly is an interesting piece. Thanks for posting it.

If I were going to do something historic, I'd document it well, and have more than one witness.

Australia seems to love Houdini.
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