Friday, March 27, 2009

Summit set to turn Houdini into an action hero

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Summit Entertainment has unlocked The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America's First Superhero, picking up feature film rights to the biography by William Kalush and Larry Sloman.

The comprehensive tome, published in 2006 by Atria Books, has become known for insinuating that Harry Houdini acted as a spy for Britain and was asked to be an adviser to Czar Nicholas II's court in prerevolutionary Russia. The book also portrays the master escape artist and magician as a debunker of con artists who pretended to be spiritualists, leading to the controversial theory that Houdini's death was caused by the spiritualist movement as payback.

The studio, which is looking for writers to adapt the book, does not aim to make a biopic but rather an action thriller featuring a character who is part Indiana Jones and part Sherlock Holmes. Summit hopes to cash in on worldwide recognition of Houdini's name while potentially launching a franchise.

Houdini has long entranced Hollywood, with projects having been set up at studios including Columbia, Universal and Walden and such boldface names as Robert Zemeckis, Paul Verhoeven, Ang Lee and Tom Cruise keen on exploring various aspects of his character, from the lovelorn magician to the adventurer.

Despite the interest, few projects have made it to the screen. Among the best known is Houdini, a 1953 biopic starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. The most recent was Death Defying Acts, a 2008 release starring Guy Pearce and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

(Editing by Sheri Linden at Reuters)

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