Sunday, April 24, 2016

Watch the Water Torture Cell escape from Houdini & Doyle

Today I'm excited to share this preview clip from the premiere episode of Houdini & Doyle. This shows Michael Weston's Houdini performing the famous Chinese Water Torture Cell. Enjoy.

The production filmed this scene last year at the Palace Theatre in Manchester, where the real Houdini performed the same feat. However, it could not have been "100 years to the day" as some publicly has stated. Houdini was touring the U.S. throughout 1915. Derek Tait in Houdini The British Tours shows Houdini performing at the Palace Theatre in Manchester (Oxford Street) in 1913.

So how does this depiction compare to others? Not bad! The cell is pretty good reproduction of Houdini's real cell, notably the stocks, although it is much larger and has a glass back, which Houdini's cell did not have. As I noted in my episode one review, they resist having Houdini appear as his own axe-wielding assistant at the end. This "twist" was created by Doug Henning in 1975, but recent Houdini biopics have seized on it as the way to conclude the escape. In this regard, the admittedly fictional Houdini & Doyle restores some welcome reality.

The posters on stage are based on real Houdini posters. The bathing suit Weston is wearing is what Houdini would sometimes wear during outdoor underwater escapes (on stage he wore a one piece). As discussed here, the attractive and put-upon Florrie is fictional. And, yes, there's the ever present giant clock.

Overall, I think we should tip our hats to production designer Arwel Jones for giving us a pretty darn good USD! Looking forward to what else Houdini & Doyle has to offer when the series premiers next week on FOX.

Houdini & Doyle stars Michael Weston as Houdini, Stephen Mangan as Arthur Conan Doyle, and Rebecca Liddiard as Constable Adelaide Stratton. It premieres next Monday, May 2, at 9:00 PM ET/PT on FOX.



  1. He's also shackled which we know never happened. I've always liked the Paul Michael Glazer ending were he's patting the front glass panel looking for a way out.

    1. Yep, correct, no shackles on the real Harry.

      As far as the endings go (from memory): Curtis, Glaser and Schaech fail to escape. Young HH, FairyTale, and the Houdini mini go with the assistant twist. Death Defying Acts has him on the top of the cell as we see here.

      Of course, HH was never revealed on top of the cell because his USD was enclosed in a curtain cabinet, not by a lowered curtain. So we've never actually seen the escape conclude in the way it really did.

    2. All these attempts and not a single one gets its right. Does Hollywood really think the WTC wasn't amazing enough that they had to tweaked it (like here with shackles, the wrong suit or incorrect finish) or is it a matter than none of them care enough to be accurate? John why doesn't one of these projects hire you to get it right? It would be nice to actually have the WTC done the way Harry truly dd it. I would love to see it performed the correct way by one of the first supertstars of entertainment.

    3. These productions tend to hire only magic consultants. They want and need someone to teach the stars how to do card tricks and sleights, etc. But what they should also do is hire a history/Houdini consultant and, yes, that's a job I'd love. But they tend to trust that the writers and production designers will do the historical research. But because of the speed and demands of a production, they only ever do very cursory research. Typically the only real source they have is how it was done in past movies, so the same dull ideas are recycled.

      I understand when things need to be changed. There are all kinds of practical filmmaking issues that need to be addressed before history. But what kills me is when I talk to the productions after the fact and they say, "I wish we would have known that."

  2. How about the physique? And the chest hair? Just realized that I've never seen chest hair on him. Did he shave it??

    1. You can see slight chest hair on Houdini.

      I think Weston's physique is a decent match. Their shoulders are similar. Better match than Brody!

    2. Is that chest hair or a blotch on the photo?

      Better than Brody for sure!

    3. Check out the famous pic of him hanging in the USD. The hair on his arms and chest photographed darker there.