Thursday, July 19, 2012

'The Great Houdinis' title mystery is solved

Title card on the '77 repeat and current versions of The Great Houdinis.

Was the 1976 ABC TV movie called The Great Houdini (singular) or The Great Houdinis (plural)? This has been a surprisingly tricky question to answer. While the original publicity material shows the film as being called The Great Houdinis, the title card on the surviving film shows it as The Great Houdini. Because of this, most sources now call the movie The Great Houdini, including IMDb.

However, I've always believed that the title card was changed to the singular for the 1977 repeat. I think I've even stated it as fact. But I've never actually been able to prove it.

Now thanks to our friend MSW, who has an original work print in his collection, and the Magic Castle library, who have what appears to be a recording of the original '76 broadcast, I was finally able to confirm that the title on the original film was The Great Houdinis (plural). The title card was indeed changed for the repeat broadcast on April 6, 1977, and this modified version is what found its way onto home video in Europe and is the only version available today.

But when the title rolled on October 8, 1976, it was...

Original title card on the 1976 work print.

And just to make matters a little more complicated, there is also a difference between the 1976 work print and the broadcast version. The work print shows the title against a black background like the '77 version. But the Castle's broadcast version shows it superimposed over an image of Houdini. Either way, the title is plural.

1976 broadcast with superimposed title card.

By the way, I did not have time to examine the work print in its entirety, but I have long heard talk -- from no less of a source than Adrienne Barbeau herself -- of a more risque "semi-nude" version of the Daisy White seduction scene.

Stay tuned!

Click here for the 'Making of The Great Houdinis'

UPDATE: I've now watched the complete work print, and besides the main title, there is no difference between this, the '77 repeat, and the UK home video version.

UPDATE 2: I recently had a look at a print in the UCLA Film & Television Archive and it also had the superimposed plural title card as seen on the Magic Castle's broadcast tape.


  1. The movie was titled "the Great Houdini" until Sally Struthers was signed to play Bess. She was a big name then and part of her deal was to play Bess. I know this because I saw an early draft of Mel Shavelson's script and it was titled "the Great Houdini." Mel Shavelson himself explained that the title change was part of the deal they made with Sally.
    Sally Struthers will tell you the same thing. The script they sent her to read was titled "the Great Houdini."

  2. I meant to say it was part of the deal Sally agents struck that the title would be changed to "the Great Houdinis."
    I absolutely know this to be true as I worked on this film both on camera, and behind the scenes weeks before it filmed.

    1. Wow! You've never told me this before, Patrick. That is an awesome piece of information. Thank you. :)

  3. I have Ruth Gordon's contract for this movie, but I never took notice what the title was. If I run across it, I'll let you know.

    1. Cool. Thanks. I expect it says The Great Houdini. Pat's right, the earlier script had that title. I expect the contracts did as well.

  4. Great stuff MSW, PC, KK and JC. This weekend, I am going to watch my VHS copy of the ABC TV movie I taped when I was kid on Friday, October 8TH, 1976.

    1. That's great, Joe. Let us know if your copy has the superimposed title, the we'll know for sure if that Castle copy is the '76 broadcast.

  5. There was a European release that was a little spicier.

  6. Update above. No difference besides the main title.