Wednesday, February 9, 2011

DreamWorks buys Houdini/Conan Doyle thriller, Voices from the Dead

The Hollywood Reporter reports that DreamWorks has purchased the original screenplay Voices from the Dead from screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski. The thriller finds Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle teaming up with a psychic to solve a set of murders in 1920's New York.

Straczynski wrote the 2008 Angelina Jolie drama Changeling. He also co-wrote the 2009 action thriller Ninja Assassin and was a writer-producer for Babylon 5 and Murder, She Wrote.

It's a little hard for me to get all that excited about this because, 1.) there have been a bazillion Houdini movie projects announced that never amounted to anything and, 2.) there have been a bazillion Houdini/Conan Doyle mash-ups with exactly this same premise. Remember The Arcanum?

It's a wait and see for me.

UPDATE: Spinoff Online reached out to the writer shortly after the announcement and scored the first details on how the story and deal came together. Straczynski tells the website:

“I was doing some research into Houdini when I discovered that he and Doyle were friends. I hadn’t previously been aware of this, and was fascinated by their relationship. I managed to get a lot online about them, and I ordered Houdini’s book where he talks about Doyle, and Doyle’s book where he talks about Houdini … the more I dug the more interesting it became.

I didn’t want to do a story about magic, per se, because that’s been done so many times. Instead I wrapped the story around a murder mystery with supernatural overtones — is it real or isn’t it? — and set them on the path to find out, accompanied by someone who may or may not be a real medium. It’s an action story, a character story, there’s humor and some really scary stuff … I think it’s going to do really well, and I know that the folks involved want to get this made as quickly as possible.”


  1. One of my favorite games: Who would play each part?
    Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Conan Doyle. But who for Houdini?

  2. Not that fictional movies need to be historically accurate, but if you assume the movie is set in the early to mid-1920s, when Doyle and Houdini knew each other, Doyle would be in his early to mid-60s and Houdini would be mid- to late 40s.

    Maybe Geoffrey Rush with a moustache could play Doyle. Not sure about Houdini. If Robert Duvall were a good 30 years younger than he is ...

  3. Interesting view in the book "The secret life of Houdini" by Kalush and Sloman - specifically on the theory of association to undercover work and development of debunking the spiritualist movement of which Conan Doyle was a leading exponent.

  4. I just found a reference in a 1975 Genii to proposed Houdini-Conan Doyle movie that said John Housman would play Doyle. Never got made, obviously.