Houdini: The Movie Star (Three-Disc Collection)
DVD | Box Set
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By the year 1919, Harry Houdini was known throughout the world as a master magician and escape artist. Having conquered the stage, he set out to rule the screen, appearing in a series of thrillers built upon his almost supernatural powers. Culled from film archives and private collections, this Kino DVD set includes all of Houdini s suriving films as an actor, rare footage of actual handcuff and straitjacket escapes, and a wealth of historical information. Includes: THE MASTER MYSTERY (1919, 238m, Color Tinted) TERROR ISLAND (1920, 55m, B&W) THE MAN FROM BEYOND (1922, 68m, Color Tinted) HALDANE OF THE SECRET SERVICE (1923, 84m, Color Tinted) THE GRIM GAME (Fragment, 1919, 5m, Color Tinted) - SPECIAL FEATURES INCLUDE: Filmed records of Houdini escapes (ca. 1907-23) - Audio recording of Houdini speaking (1914) - Excerpts from the NY Censor Board files - Slippery Jim, a 1910 Houdini-inspired comedy - The illusion Metamorphosis performed by Houdini s brother Hardeen and others.
- Filmed records of Houdini escapes
- Audio recording of Houdini speaking
- Excerpts from the NY Censor Board files
- The illusion "Metamorphosis" performed by Houdini's brother Hardeen
- Multiple Image Galleries
- New film notes
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In the KINO set, there is a great deal of footage I've never seen before, and this is Houdini's Ghost speaking. One bit of film shows Houdini running through a park in Paris. Two pairs of handcuffs are locked on his wrists. He stops at the wall outside the Paris morgue, strips off his clothes to his boxer trunks, then climbs a gate and stands atop of the wall of the morgue. Then he jumps into the river Seine.
He surfaces a couple of times before he frees himself from the cuffs, then, he swims to the opposite shore where men are waiting for him. They throw a coat over his shoulders and hustle him into a car which drives away, pursued by four French policemen who look very much like Keystone cops.
Here's the point: in 1909, Houdini starred in a 10 minute Pathe short. I have never seen the opening sequence, but some private collectors do have it and I have been told that Houdini is seen on a street in Paris. He observes a Parisian policeman arresting a drunk. Houdini protests the treatment of the drunk and is arrested himself. The next segment I have seen. Houdini is taken inside the police station and tied to a chair. A policeman sits in a chair nearby and dozes off, and Houdini escapes from the ropes and ties up the sleeping cop.
I've also seen the next segment in which Houdini is strapped in a straitjacket and locked in a padded cell. He escapes. Apparently, what follows is the piece of film in the KINO special features in which Houdini, handcuffed, jumps into the Seine. To my knowledge, all these segments have never been put together, or rather, put back together.
There are two shots missing from the Paris Seine footage in the KINO set. One is a close-up of the cuffs on Houdini's wrists as he stands atop the wall. The other is the actual shot of him jumping into the water. The missing shots are acknowledged in the DVD. I happen to know where those two shots are. They were used in a BBC documentary on Houdini back around 1976. I remember the filmmakers insisting on first-generation footage. Somebody cut those shots from the Paris footage to be used in the BBC documentary, and they never got put back.
Likewise, there is footage missing from "the Master Mystery." We see, for example, Houdini placed in a packing box and thrown off a pier. An inserted title card explains that Houdini escapes underwater. Well, the underwater shot was also used in the BBC documentary. And also never replaced.
Probably the man responsible for scattering so many elements of the "Master Mystery" to the four winds was Ray Rohauer, who can also be thanked for removing three chapters out of the 15 chapter Serial, and losing them. At one time, Houdini performed approximately two escapes per episode. Many of them are now missing. A particularly unfortunate loss was of a chain escape Houdini performed. I also missed seeing a scene in which Houdini is locked in a jail cell. He stares at the keyhole and we get an x-ray view of the lock as his mind causes the bolt to open.
This lost Houdini footage may still exist in private collections. What must happen is that collectors must unselfishly help to gather the distaff elements together. In the KINO Houdini DVD set, are five minutes of the feature length Houdini film "the Grim Game." Actually, an hour long version of that film still exists and a man who considers himself Houdini's greatest fan has been sitting on it for 50 years. Incidentally, while collectors hoard their Houdini film footage, it is dying.
In 1976, a film archive, Sherman Grinberg, screened about an hour of Houdini footage for me when I was technical advisor on a TV movie about him. A couple of years later, I tried to get another screening, but, the nitrate film had shrunk and would be too expensive to try to salvage. When the director/writer Mel Shavelson went to Houdini collector Larry Weeks to look at some very rare footage, they found that quite a bit of it had degenerated to a volatile goo.
I have a special perspective about this lost Houdini footage. Back in the late fifties, I saw the entire 15 chapters of Master Mystery twice and each chapter was complete and intact. We are losing these films almost faster than anybody can rescue them, but, we all should make an effort to save every scrap of film we possibly can.
Of the other four only his last effort HALDANE OF THE SECRET SERVICE is fully complete. 1919's THE GRIM GAME has only about 5 minutes but it contains an actual midair collision which was left in the film. THE MAN FROM BEYOND is Houdini's best known film and the 16mm copy here is much better than any of the previous video incarnations. The story of a man revived after being frozen for 100 years has been reworked many times and is never less than fascinating. The highlight of the collection is TERROR ISLAND. Although missing reels 3 and 4 it has the advantage of high production values (it was made at Paramount), a quality director in James Cruze (THE COVERED WAGON), and a cast of strong supporting players led by Eugene Pallette (he was Friar Tuck in Errol Flynn's ROBIN HOOD) whose career stretched into the 1940s.
The set comes with lots of extras including actual clips of Houdini performing and an audio recording of him advertising his act from 1914. As a performer Houdini was charismatic but his films suffer from the same plots and stunts used over and over again. If you've seen one, you've seen em' all. Nevertheless this is a valuable piece of celluloid history and is certainly worth having for the discriminating collector or silent film lover. Just don't expect something "magical".
For the first time in the lives of American Baby Boomers, we can see Houdini's entire, surviving legacy on film.
This is one heck of a story!
It starts with a little Jewish immigrant named Erich Weiss, the son of a rabbi -- who, even when he reached adulthood, stood 5-foot-5. At the height of his powers, dressed immaculately in suit and tie with the air of a college professor or perhaps a famous doctor -- "Harry Houdini" loved to stage public displays of his powers in the busy streets just outside major newspaper offices.
He liked to work with tall policemen, who would tower over him as they threw him into these dangerous scrapes. Seeing Houdini's little, noble form with his wise, highly cultured face set off by his perfectly knotted ties -- it is quite a jolt to watch these big bruisers encircle him. They actually toss him to and fro as they pull the restraints as tightly as possible around his body.
This all contributes to the awesome wonder of Houdini's escapes.
Yes, it's true: Houdini also was famous as a magician and everyone knew that his theatrical shows were illusions. There's a little of that in this set, but not much.
It was Houdini's amazing physical accomplishments on land, in the air and under water -- real, life-and-death threats to the man himself -- that made him world famous.
Those accomplishments include his cinematic career. These films display Houdini at the peak of his power, shaped by his sheer force of will, physical training, personal charisma and a clever understanding of the psychology of his foes.
Remember that Houdini died in 1926, before the "sound era" in Hollywood. So all of these films are silent (with musical scores, of course). And the longest film really is a nearly forgotten genre: the weekly serial.
If you've never seen a Hollywood serial, then you're in for a treat. They weren't called "cliff hangers" for nothing! The genre later was perfected through the 1930s and 1940s until it eventually spilled over into network television series. It's the concept behind the hugely popular "Indiana Jones" and "Star Wars" series.
In this Houdini collection, the 1919 serial "Master Mystery" clocks in at nearly four hours for all of the serialized episodes. And, it's a great showcase for Houdini's physical abilities.
If you're a real Houdini buff, fascinated with his later work on debunking psychics while also exploring life after death, then "The Man from Beyond" is a revelation. It's a story of a man, entirely frozen in ice in a ship-board disaster, who many years later is discovered, revived, brought back to civilization -- and must come to terms with this strange transformation beyond death itself. Houdini clearly put a lot of creative effort into this film, including beautifully designed title cards. But, frankly, it's a little slow sledding for modern viewers. There's more mature artistry here - less Houdini-style action.
The gem here - and you'll need to get past the early-Hollywood convention of picking exotic-looking minority groups as stock villains - is "Terror Island." This is a rare feature film, some of which is missing and is replaced by explanatory text - but what's been preserved is stunning. Houdini plays a close-to-superhuman scientist who performs amazing feats under water, suspended in the air, high on a mountain - and winds up both marrying the true-hearted girl and helping orphans as well.
Perhaps the most haunting footage in the entire set is a series of film clips of Houdini's public escapes. If you're a teacher or student interested in 20th-Century cultural history, those clips alone are worth the price of the set.
These have been all but lost to most movie goers for nearly a century. Now that Kino has brought them back to life so vividly - and conveniently - for all of us, it's a must-own set for those of us who love cinema. And, in this case, the haunting story behind Houdini and these films should fuel a lot of intriguing discussion.
Most recent customer reviews
It is a silent movie and it is very slow to watch. It is also made in segments as in the old Saturday afternoon serials.Read more
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