Friday, May 3, 2013

Rare 1986 Houdini documentary available on DVD


In 1986 Wisconsin PBS produced what I think is still one of the better Houdini documentaries. The 30 minute doc features many unpublished photos (below is a screencap of one) and provides a nice look inside the Sidney Radner collection at his home in Holyoke. Watch Sid page through Houdini's crumbling first scrapbook and try to yank a pair of handcuffs from a massive tangle of cuffs in an old suitcase! Wild stuff.

The documentary also features wonderful footage of Doug Henning performing Metamorphosis in Appleton's Houdini Plaza, and nice footage of the Houdini Hall of Fame in Canada. We also get the full story of how Harry Blackstone's overboard box wound up in the basement of 278, as told by Harry Blackstone Jr. The documentary also contains what might be the first ever on-camera interview with Marie Blood, giving us a nice look inside her home with photos of her "Uncle Harry" covering one wall.

And apart from making the common narrative error of conflating Houdini's mother's death with his anti-spiritualist crusade (and thereby jumping over 10 years of his life), the documentary does a very good job of getting the facts right.

The documentary was first released on VHS in 1988 by Congress Home Video as Houdini: The Greatest Illusionist of All Time (which you can still buy on Amazon). In 2008 Chip Taylor Communications released this digitally enhanced DVD which, believe it or not, I only now discovered.

Chip Taylor sells their DVDs with various licenses, including broadcast, but the most requested is for "Home/Personal Use," which is how you can get a copy of Houdini for $24.95.

Just click on over to Chip Taylor Communications and email for details on how to order and arrange payment.

8 comments:

  1. I know I have this on vhs, but I may need to take another look at it as it's been years since I watched it. Would like to see the Marie Blood footage again.

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  2. John--can you elaborate on this photo above of Houdini and several associates standing behind this large trunk?

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    1. I don't know anything about it, except that "Cleveland Ohio" is written on it. I've never seen it before, which is why I sparked to it. It's a great shot.

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  3. My best guess is early to Spring 1926 during Houdini's midwest tour of his last evening show. He opens on Broadway around Christmas 1925 and takes it on the road.

    He moves on to Chicago for an extended eight week run sometime early 1926. My Koval Diaries are boxed away out of my hands right now.

    It looks like a theater backstage shot. The cabinet for the Sub Trunk might be on the left side behind the gentlemen.

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    1. You could be right on there, Leo. It certainly looks like the full evening show props and an older Houdini. However, what confuses me is the box looks like a packing crate challenge. These men could be reps from the packing crate Co. I didn't think Houdini did these kinds of challenge escapes so late in his career. But maybe he did.

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  4. You're right, the box does look like a packing crate. If you magnify the photo, you can see the usual packing crate joints. The history books tell us that Houdini did the Needles, Sub Trunk and the USD for the second portion of his show. He could have changed that lineup with a challenge, especially if the houses were thin.

    According to Christopher, Houdini first opened his full evening show in Pittsburgh on September 14, 1925. He also performed in Cincinnati and Columbus around this time so he was definitely in Ohio in late 1925.

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    1. I think Houdini did occasional swap out the USD for something else in his full evening show, maybe because not all theaters could accommodate the cell. I've heard of him doing a straightjacket escape. Could be he also occasionally did a packing crate challenge. Kind of cool how in the full evening show escape section you'd see some kind of "Houdini classic."

      Damn-it! Where's my time machine?

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  5. During his full evening show, Houdini would perform classic effects from earlier magicians such as Robert-Houdin and Dr. Lynn. Apparently, he also performed his earlier classics as well.

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