Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Here is that remarkable Houdini mystery footage

Earlier this year our friend Leo Hevia discovered 30 minutes of largely unseen Houdini footage buried in a YouTube video of random magic clips. It was an exciting find! A few weeks ago the clip and channel disappeared. It's still not clear who ran this channel, nor where this footage originated.

But this footage was just too remarkable to let vanish, so I've taken the liberty of uploading four of the most complete and interesting clips to my own YouTube channel. (Hopefully I'm not stepping on any toes by doing this.) I have also embedded the clips below along with a description of what they show. As you can see, the quality is poor, but the content is incredible. Enjoy!

1. Visiting sister Gladys: This appears to be unedited home movies of Houdini visiting his sister Carrie Gladys on a snowy day. After several shots outside of Houdini leaving the house (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. After everyone leaves, Houdini returns to pick up and kiss a photo of his mother. We then see Houdini hugging and kissing Bess outside in the snow. Incredible.



2. Houdini Coin and Card handling: 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 Velvet Fingers, but Houdini is dressed in a suit instead of a tuxedo, so this appears to be something entirely different. Whatever it is, it's a remarkable minute of film and breathtaking to watch Houdini's hand movements.



3. Monk Table Tie Escape: This footage shows Houdini doing an escape on the set of Haldane of the Secret Service. But 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.



4. The Man From Beyond cliff stunt: While maybe not as spectacular as the above clips, this is every bit as interesting. This shows Houdini filming his cliff fight and his stunt of hanging off the edge. Shot from a distance, we can see the cameraman and also the geography of the stunt, showing Houdini was not as high off the ground as it appears in the movie. A rare piece of behind the scenes.



Also part of the original clip was the first few minutes of Houdini's 1909 movie, Les merveilleux exploits de Houdini à Paris. But this is something I'm going to save for a later time as part of a larger restoration project.

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10 comments:

  1. Wonderful discovery. Thank you for sharing these.

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  2. Wow that is bad to the bone, must be more out there...
    so cool thanks john

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  3. Thanks a million for sharing these priceless clips, John, and making them so easily accessible here. (And thanks to Leonard and whoever shared them originally!) All things considered, the quality isn't that bad - if one compares it with the surviving kinescopes from the early days of television, they're pretty decent! Of course it would be incredible to see them restored. In the MFB clip, I was noticing the men to the right behind the rock - it almost looks like one of them is conducting music! (which he obviously couldn't be). I wonder what was going on there. The clips are all fantastic, but the Gladys clip is such an amazing glimpse into Houdini's private life.

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    1. Thanks Tom! I'm pretty sure at least one of the men on the right is the camera man shooting the footage as we see it in the film today. They could both be cameramen, doubling up for the important stunt.

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    2. Yes, it looks like the man on the left is turning a hand crank on a camera. As for the guy on the right, if it were a much later film, he could almost be following a playback of the soundtrack to make sure the action synched with the music! But this is way too early for that. So cool to see a behind-the-scenes glimpse in any case!

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    3. You're welcome T & J. All I can say is that I got lucky finding these clips on YouTube. That silhouetted still photo of Harry and Bess from the home movie is wonderful! They look amazing! John did a nice job capturing that moment.

      I love the way the casual way Harry behaves in the film, no acting or putting on airs. And Gladys has a nice smile.

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  4. This is great stuff! Thank you so much for sharing this, John! Priceless indeed, and the footage isn't really all that horrible. Looks like it was copied from film to VHS at some point in the last few decades, probably in prep for one or more documentaries, then sold or given away, and copied again and again (looks like on EP mode too, ouch). Hopefully the original film is out there somewhere.

    In the meantime, this is wonderful to behold! To see Gladys on film at all - wow! And Houdini with Bess, just too adorable! The rope escape was fun too. And the coin sleight of hand slow-mo, rather mesmerizing!

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  5. Thank you for sharing these John! This is just so awesome to see! I catch myself laughing during the first few seconds of the first clip, in which it looks like a little snowball fight breaks between a couple of them on the way to the car! Love it!

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  6. Looks to me like the Gladys visit video could be early telecine, this could possibly explain why the contrast is high. I hope the original film is in a safe place. Very interesting, thanks John

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