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American Experience: Houdini (2011)

n , a , Produced by Nancy Porter , Beth Tierney  |  NR |  DVD
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: n, a
  • Directors: Produced by Nancy Porter, Beth Tierney
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: PBS (DIRECT)
  • DVD Release Date: October 4, 2011
  • Run Time: 60 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B005DJ7B1Y
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #26,535 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Special Features


Editorial Reviews

Wrapped in chains and encased in a crate, magician Harry Houdini was dropped into New York's icy East River. Horrified onlookers watched him emerge, unharmed, less than 60 second later. Easily the world's most famous escape artist, Houdini mesmerized audiences with astonishing acts of magic like the Water Torture Cell. A circus performer turned gifted artist, Houdini confronted humanity's greatest fears: entrapment, pain, and death.

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Kent Dixon, DVD Verdict --American Experience is a PBS program that airs documentaries about important people and events in American history. In 2000, the series aired American Experience: Houdini, a biography of the legendary magician, illusionist, and escape artist. Narrated by Mandy Patinkin (The Princess Bride), the documentary explores Houdini's life in depth, beginning with his trip from Budapest to New York in 1878 when he was just four years old.

Through archival footage and photographs, as well as on-screen interviews and dramatic recreations performed by escape artist Bob Fellows, American Experience: Houdini brings the remarkable history and legacy of Harry Houdini to life. The full screen video presentation is solid, despite a wide range of content, from archival footage and stills, to more contemporary on-camera interviews and recreations. The 2.0 audio mix does its job as well, serving as adequate for a documentary of this type. There are no extra features of any kind.

American Experience: Houdini is a fantastic documentary that presents the life of one of the most memorable historical figures the world has ever known. While Houdini is long gone, his legacy has served to inspire generations of magicians, illusionists and performers all around the world and his achievements continue to amaze and astound us.

-Full review at
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the better Houdini documentaries October 15, 2011
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This PBS American Experience documentary was first broadcast on January 24, 2000, and until now has only been available on VHS. Hosted by David McCullough, this very good hour long doc includes interviews with David Copperfield, James Randi, Ken Silverman, E.L. Doctorow, Dorothy Young, and even artist Al Hirschman, who knew Houdini and talks about being invited to punch him in the stomach in his dressing room (and "hurting my hand").

One thing I really like about this particular doc is it doesn't fall into the familiar narrative trap of transitioning from his mother's death to his anti-spiritualist crusade, thereby lopping out 10 years of his life and his entire movie career. This documentary tracks his career very accurately. This doc also features several unpublished photos, including a shot of Houdini standing in his Milk Can in handcuffs that I've never seen anywhere else. It also ends with wonderful footage of Harry and his wife Bess kissing and hugging outside a theater.

I recommend this documentary to seasoned Houdini buffs and anyone who might be curious to learn more about the great "master mystifier."
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
This is a nice concise 54-minute summary of the famous Harry Houdini (real name Eric Weiss) who was best known as the world's most famous "escape artist". Narrated by Mandy Patinkin, with major comments and insights from Houdini's biographer, magician The Amazing Randi, "Ragtime" author E.L. Doctorow and illusionist David Copperfield, this documentary mixes archival footage of Houdini (He made a series of 15 silent films) and recreations (which seem out of place - at least for me).

As I watched this new 2011 release from PBS Home Video of this "American Experience" episode, I kept thinking that Copperfield looked awfully young and there were interviews with cartoonist Al Hirschfeld - who died years ago. Then, as the final credits rolled, I saw that the show was done in 2000 - 11 years ago. Apparently this is the first home video release since it aired. Still, the story is interesting and you will learn much of what you need to know about Houdini in under an hour.

Steve Ramm
"Anything Phonographic"
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