After a flurry of reports in 2011 about the hiring of screenwriter Scott Frank and director Francis Lawrence, news on Sony Pictures' Houdini movie has all but dried up. This certainly wouldn't be the first time a Houdini project has become trapped in Development Hell, especially at this studio. I suspect this movie isn't going to get made.
So today I'm going to spill a little tidbit about the project that didn't find its way into any of the news reports. In fact, there seemed to be an effort by the studio to misdirect people in regards to the plot, which was reported to be about Houdini falling in love with a beautiful spiritualist (shades of Death Defying Acts). Not true.
The real plot is about Houdini and Chung Ling Soo working together to break a man out of prison. According to my secret sources, Chung Ling Soo plays as big a roll in the movie as Houdini. The script also includes a large element of the supernatural.
Chung Ling Soo was actually William Ellsworth Robinson, a skilled American magician who gained fame posing as a Chinese conjurer. Amazingly, the public never knew his true identity or nationality. Houdini and Robinson were good friends. In fact, they shared the bill at the Alhambra Theatre in July 1900 and both catapulted to fame at the very same time. Chung Ling Soo was later killed onstage performing the bullet catch.
I like the idea of a movie featuring a newly famous Houdini (a Hungarian posing as an American) and Robinson (an American posing as Chinese) becoming involved in some sort of adventure in the early 1900s. Of course, I would rather see it played straight. But you know Hollywood; if it isn't an action movie they don't understand it.
Other Houdini projects languishing in the pits of Development Hell: The Secret Life of Houdini (Lionsgate); The Houdini Box (20th Century Fox); Voices from the Dead (DreamWorks); Among The Spirits (NBC); The Arcanum (Gold Circle); and Carter Beats the Devil (Warner Bros). There are also untitled Houdini projects being developed at Walden Media and Ron Howard's Imagine Entertainment.