Sunday, June 28, 2015

The King of Vaudeville

Here's a German poster for the 1953 classic Houdini with Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. I've never seen this design before. The title translates to Houdini: The King of Vaudeville. That's an uncommon accolade, but apt! This image comes from Cinema.de.


Houdini was released in West Germany on March 18, 1954. For an historical overview of the film, check out this post, which also includes the original U.S. trailer. I also have a dedicated Facebook page for this classic that inspired generations of young people (including myself) to study the art of magic and history of Houdini.

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7 comments:

  1. If you were to take this movie and alter the ending so it better matched reality it would not be too far off the mark. Certainly it would still be a dramatized version of Houdinis life but it's all there.....meager early career, whirlwind courtship with Bess, European sensation, daredevil escapers, jail escapes, straitjacket escape both on stage and mid air, Mothers death, spiritualism investigations, etc. it's the ending that spoils the movie in terms of completely ignoring Houdini history.

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    1. I agree. It is not the pure fiction that many think it is. The superstructure of Houdini's life and career is sound.

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  2. I've always wondered.........Houdini was supposed to be the most famous entertainer in the world at the time of his death and the 25 or so years prior. When this movie first came out in 1953 I would think many in the audience actually saw Houdini perform live and in person during the time period 1900-1926. Don't you think the director and writers of this movie felt a need to portray Houdini accurately in terms of his presence and manner in stage?

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    1. It's certainly true that many people who saw this movie would have remembered Houdini from life. Even J. Gordon Whitehead was alive when the movie came out, although he would die that year. (I always wondered if he saw it.)

      I don't think Hollywood ever worries about accurate portrayal. Tony Curtis...close enough! He was Hungarian and Jewish.

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    2. But to be fair to poor Hollywood, I think they've always tried to match Houdini up physically. It's then up to the actor how to play it. I think only Harvey Keitel gave an accurate portrayal of Houdini's personality and mannerisms.

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  3. The point is lets say a bio was done on Elvis in 2004 (like the first Houdini bio 27 years after the performers death) where the end of the film he is killed on stage in some dramatic manner. Would there not be a huge uproar and complete confusion asking why his death was portrayed in such a false manner? The cause of Houdinis death was no secret and it ran in every newspaper throughout the world. Was there an uproar when this movie hit the theaters in 1953 from everyone who knew Houdini did not die in the manner portrayed? If not do we have a reason as to why?

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    1. As far as I can tell, only in the magic world.

      I don't think general audiences back then demanded or expected much from of a movie about an entertainer. They just wanted it to be entertaining in the way that entertainer was entertaining, if that makes sense. People wanted to see magic and death-defying thrills from a Houdini movie (and romance between the stars), and that's what they got.

      As far as his death goes, it was dramatic and sudden and an accident, just as it was in life. I think that was enough for most. And it was great drama.

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