Thursday, January 3, 2019

Holy smokes! Thirty minutes of largely unseen Houdini film surfaces

We may only be three days into the new year, but our friend Leonard Hevia has made what might be the find of 2019! While browsing the Sleight of Direction YouTube channel, Leo found 30 minutes of Houdini film footage, much of it unknown! It's contained in a video clip posted on New Years Eve titled "Various TV Magic Clips from the US - 1970s to before." Curiously, the video description doesn't even mention Houdini. But oh baby!

The quality is very poor, but the content is incredible. Below is the embedded clip set to begin at the Houdini footage at 59:48 (you might want to mute the sound).



Here's a breakdown of what I consider the most remarkable footage seen here. Timecodes show where the clip is located in the above video.

Houdini Visits Gladys (01:21:14): The most mind blowing footage for me is what appears to be unedited home movies of Houdini visiting his sister Gladys during a snowy day. After several shots outside of Houdini leaving (the footage is not in sequence), we cut inside the house to find Gladys playing the piano as Harry and Bess enter. Gladys then greets Houdini's assistants one by one: Franz Kukol, James Vickery, Jim Collins, and an unidentified assistant. Two more men are greeted by Gladys and Houdini, but I don't know who they are. As everyone leaves, Houdini takes a moment to pick up and kiss a photo of his mother. We then see Houdini hugging and kissing Bess outside in the snow. Incredible.


Houdini's Paris Movie (01:23:52): This next clip is of huge significance to Houdini movie history. It's the first three minutes of Houdini's 1909 movie Les merveilleux exploits de Houdini à Paris, complete with the original French title cards. The key here is that includes the opening incident in which Harry and Bess help a drunk man on the street and are arrested. With this footage, a restoration is now doable (although we are still missing the very opening in which we see the Alhambra decked out in Houdini posters).


Houdini Coin and Cards (01:14:48): A real mystery is this one minute of footage showing Houdini doing coin sleights and card manipulations in slow motion. It's tempting to think this is a lost fragment from his 1925 Marvels in Motion appearance (later released as Velvet Fingers). But Houdini is dressed here in a suit instead of a tuxedo, so this could be something entirely different. Whatever it is, it's a remarkable minute of film and breathtaking to watch Houdini's hand movements.


Monk Table Tie Escape (01:27:10): This is footage of Houdini doing an escape on the set of Haldane of the Secret Service. This is not from the movie itself. The scenario here appears to be that he's being challenged by monks (played by actors and his assistants). This footage has appeared in documentaries, but it always cuts off as Houdini is being tied. Here the footage is complete and uncut, showing the full escape and Houdini being raised up on the shoulders of the ecstatic monks.


This compilation also includes several unfamiliar clips of suspended straitjacket escapes; behind the scenes filming of The Man From Beyond; the familiar footage of Houdini outside a Kansas City theater and the Rochester bridge jump; Harry Kellar visiting Houdini, Dash and Bess at Hardeen's Flatbush home (where Houdini was living at the time); and several clips from The Mastery Mystery with original title cards and some footage not seen in the Kino DVD.


So where the heck did this film come from? I'm afraid I don't have any answers, and I don't know who runs this YouTube Channel (it appears they may be outside the U.S.). But this channel includes a treasure trove of rare magic clips, and I can't help but wonder if we are somehow seeing part of the recently auctioned Bill McIlhany collection? But wherever it came from, what a way to start the new year!

Thank you Leo for sharing this fantastic find.

UPDATEMysterious Houdini footage now mysteriously gone

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35 comments:

  1. Wow! I knew that Paris film was around -- I saw it many years ago, can't recall where. But the other stuff? Amazing!

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    1. When Silverman talks about the Paris movie he describes this clip exactly. Right to the cut off point.

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  2. WOW! It's so exciting when new photos of Houdini are found. But actual film footage!?!?!?!? I'm not sure I have the words. Simply breathtaking!

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    1. I know what you mean! And film of Houdini doing coin sleights, and Gladys! It's incredible.

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  3. Thanks for sharing. What a treasure trove of footage. Great find Leo!

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    1. Dig into those MM clips, Joe! I did a bit. Definitely some stuff not on Kino.

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  4. Incredible footage. I especially like natural moments like the hand shakes at 1:27:43 and the monk lift.

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    1. And 1:24:17. The vest, sleeves rolled up, arms crossed.

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    2. The natural moments are the best. I also love how this shows us what a demonstrably affectionate family they were. Houdini kissing his sister, etc. You can sense the warmth and closeness. And humor. Houdini seems to be having a ball. And he just can't keep his hands off that Bessie!

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  5. Yes! I'd like to see more of the siblings too.

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    1. This is the first footage I've ever seen of Gladys. I recently saw Leo for the first time. If Mama ever shows up I'm gonna lose it, man!

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  6. You're welcome John and thanks Joe! It was all a happy accident. I was enjoying those clips of famous magicians performing with absolutely no warning of those last 30 Houdini minutes. Stuff that was new to me so the first and only person that came to mind to notify was John.

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    1. There's the hero! :)

      We're all so lucky you watched that clip because there nothing to indicate that it had Houdini footage. We may have never known!

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  7. Holy smokes is right! This is remarkable. Great find Leo and thanks for getting this to John so we could all get to see it. The coin and card footage is amazing. The monk table escape is so awesome. It's like witnessing a genuine Houdini challenge escape. This will be tough to top for sure John!

    Jack

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    1. You're welcome Jack! We HH fans have to stick together and share whatever is discovered.

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  8. Just a lucky find my friend. You do quite a lot of work here for us Houdini fans: That mind blowing tour of 278, posting unpublished photos of HH, the Chronology still in the works, you're the real hero. And the individual who posted this on YouTube deserves the credit. He was in all likelihood unaware of the HH treasure he was posting.

    This is the first time I've seen footage of Gladys. Strange to see her play the piano, smile, and shake hands with people. She was real!

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  9. Wonderful find. Amazing content.Thank you for sharing. Appreciated.

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  10. What a gift for 2019 (and then some!) Just mind-blowing. The more film I see of Houdini (especially at the correct speed), the more "real" he seems and his performances seem, but also if you get past the clothes and the old cars, etc., some of the footage even has a contemporary feel. Like the crowds dispersing after one of the straight jacket escapes -- so real, so immediate in feeling. All wonderful and amazing, but I agree, John, the most incredible is the footage with Gladys, as well as Houdini and Bess outside in the snow! So beautiful and touching and fun! Of course it makes me wonder what other footage may be out there. Thank you so much, Leonard, and John for sharing and commenting on the footage, and whoever is responsible for helping it find its way to YouTube. Aren't we incredibly lucky?

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  11. Your welcome T & J! It was a stroke of luck. Nothing more, but sometimes we get a bit lucky now and then.

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  12. That's a terrific find and footage John and thank you for embedding this on the site. Have you spotted this little quirke? At around 1:08:39, the poster on the wall is back to front/a mirror image and later at 1:16:06 it's normal. All manner of reasons for this slip up but when you think about it, in todays times it is a great way to have a poster on a billboard to get people to take notice.

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    1. It appears a few of the clips are in there flipped. That's why the poster is flipped. But, yeah, it is a clever advertising ploy. There's actually a hotel here on the Sunset strip that has its name upside down.

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  13. What an amazing find! Thanks to all involved for sharing! and thanks to John for previewing and summarizing the clips for us! cant wait to have a look!

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  14. I think the one minute clip starting a 1:16 shows him (in front of a theater where he is appearing) using trick photography to make Dr. A. M. Wilson, editor of the Sphinx, disappear (the gentleman with the large white mustache). If so, that might allow that clip to be dated. Wilson lived in Kansas City, though he could have been visiting another city at the time, which occasion might be recorded in the Sphinx.

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    1. Hey Richard. I believe you are correct that is Dr. A.M. Wilson, and it makes sense this would be Kansas City (but I guess we don't know for sure). My best guess is this is 1923, either the week of Jan. 22-28 or Oct. 15-21 when HH played the Orpheum there.

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  15. So our friend Perry from New Jersey (who's having issues being able to leave comments) discovered he has this same collection of footage on a VHS of The Man From From Beyond made for him by John Bushey about 15-20 years ago. He had forgotten it was on there! I'm thinking John must have forgotten about it as well as he certainly would have told me he had the Paris footage. Unfortunately, the quality isn't much better.

    Anyone else maybe have this on a tape somewhere and not remember? :)

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    1. I must dig out my tape and check - thanks for the information!

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    2. Well, today I checked my "Man From Beyond" VHS (which I think is from the late 1990s but I'm not sure) and alas, no extra footage! But I did take time to watch the entire Niagara Falls sequence, which I hadn't seen in many years, and it's still astonishing and very impressive and exciting. For Houdini to swim those violent rapids (even if he had a line attached) took nerves of steel - more than his usual. Amazing he wasn't cut to bits or slammed against those rocks. He more than deserves his ongoing legendary status! (But what Bess must've gone through worrying about him)

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  16. It couldn't have been a barrel of monkeys knowing her husband was working on films with beautiful leading ladies half her age.

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    1. Even so, I think Bess was still prettier than any of them! (Dalliances aside, I think Harry clearly felt that way too!)

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  17. The owner of this YouTube page has finally responded to my comment about how he had remarkable Houdini footage here. Kind of amusing.

    "Yeah, I noticed that when the video was first uploaded. But the majority of my viewers are exclusive fans of sawings/slicings/zig zags/twister/compressors/selbits illusions, so didn't think it'll be of any interest. However, it's good to know fans of other illusions exist."

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  18. I don't think he knows what he has. I used a utility to save a copy of the video.

    Jack

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  19. Months later I see this post, and wish I was watching this blog closer back in January, because the video is now unavailable! :( I hope there's a re-post somewhere. Or could the Anonymous who saved the video re-upload it, perhaps?

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    1. Yeah, I noticed this. Can't say I'm surprised. There was something very odd about this channel and YouTuber.

      I've saved this footage and can load it to my own Wild About Harry YouTube channel and re-link it here. But I don't want to step on any toes. Not sure what to do.

      If anyone knows the story behind this, please shoot me an email.

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  20. I've resolved that I will upload and share selections from this video, but give me a week or so to work it all up.

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