Friday, January 12, 2007

Houdini's 'Haldane' screened in LA!

Haldane of the Secret Service was screened last night for a packed house at The Silent Movie Theater in West Hollywood. The film was proceeded by a Houdini trivia challenge, and three silent shorts. One of the shorts was a tour of Universal Studios circa 1925. Wild stuff!

Haldane of the Secret Service is generally considered Houdini’s weakest silent film. It was certainly his least successful, and led to Houdini giving up on the movie business and his Houdini Picture Corporation. “The profits are too meager,” complained Harry.

However, I thought Haldane was rousing good fun, and judging by last night’s reaction, so did the audience. While the plot is a bit convoluted, it’s still a fast-paced globe trotting adventure, not unlike a modern James Bond film. Houdini, as Secret Service agent Heath Haldane, dashes from New York to Scotland to London to Paris on the trail of counterfeiters and a lady love. Many of the street scenes were filmed during Houdini’s last European tour, and afford us wonderful shots of Glasgow, London, and Paris in the 1920s.

It’s also fun to see Houdini’s many changes of costume throughout the film. At one point he’s even in a top hat, cape and tux, looking every bit the image of a “classic” magician (although here it’s for a night out in the London clubs).


Like Houdini’s previous film, The Man From Beyond, Haldane of the Secret Service is low on escapes and lite on action. However, one sequence where Houdini is dragged along the side of an ocean liner is clearly done for real and thrilling. So too is the climatic water wheel escape, which is much more hair-raising than most biographers claim (one wonders if they have seen a complete version?).

Until now, Haldane of the Secret Service was considered unavailable. I've heard that the only way to see it was to rent a VHS dupe belonging to a private collector for an large fee. Therefore, I was surprised and thrilled to see it was going to play at The Silent Movie Theater. I spoke to the theater manager after the screening and learned that the print screened came from the extensive private collection of the theater co-owner and projectionist. It was not tinted as Haldane of the Secret Service was originally, but it was complete and looked very good.

One hopes this print could be used to strike a DVD release in the future.

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