Friday, March 19, 2021

The Houdini Myth (2000)

Here's a curiosity from The Magic Week Video Archive. This documentary is called The Houdini Myth and was broadcast in the UK on March 6, 2000 on BBC 2. This appears to be is an alternate cut of the 2000 PBS American Experience documentary with a new script and narration by Veronika Hyks and an overall different assemblage of the same footage. But what's most curious is this includes author Ruth Brandon who is not in the PBS version at all. This even credits Brandon as being the sole "Historical Consultant" while the PBS version credits Ken Silverman and Don. B. Wilmeth.

Not really sure what to make of all this, but it's different enough to feel like a whole new documentary. So enjoy!


  1. Did anyone else catch the photo of HH standing in the can wearing cuffs? It's part of the Atlantic City photo shoot with the can.

    1. You have an eye for the right stuff, Leo! Click the top related link about the PBS DVD and you'll see that pic there.

    2. I forgot the photo was on that page. That makes at least three photos of HH with the can in Atlantic City. That picture is very dramatic and hard to miss! HH was in great physical condition in 1908, and he still looked great in that famous USD shot dangling over the tank.

    3. The three photographs are in the David Copperfield Collection and were exhibited at the Summer of Magic Treasures Exhibit in 2018:

    4. Thanks Joe. Funny I don't remember seeing these on display when I was at that exhibition. But I was probably too mesmerized by the Miik Can itself!

      There are at least three more shots from this session. In one Houdini has only one hand behind his back (see Henning). Another he is looking the other direction and is holding the Milk Can handle. And there's one of him going down into the can while looking up at the police. These last two can be seen in The Key.

    5. The can photos:

      1. HH holding the handle with his right hand, left hand behind his back.
      2. HH cuffed and standing in the can.
      3. HH's face at the edge of the can looking straight ahead.
      4. HH's face at the edge of the can looking up at the cops.

      The other two?


    6. 1. HH with both hands behind back.
      2. HH with one hand behind back. Other hand hanging free.
      3. HH with one hand behind back. Other hand holding handle.
      4. HH cuffed standing in can.
      5. HH up to neck inside can looking straight ahead.
      6. HH up to neck inside can looking up at cops

  2. Beth S. (Gingertimelady)March 1, 2023 at 3:32 AM

    I just saw this documentary now, and commenting two years after this post - I noticed that the footage used for this BBC2 version is not an exact 1:1 match - there's some historical footage here and there inserted that was definitely not in the PBS version. They even included a cut of Houdini's water torture cell speech (filmed as though captured directly from the wax cylinder, lol) that I don't remember being in the PBS version.

    The Ruth Brandon commentary and the BBC narration, while insightful and generally more informative, carried a more distant, clinical tone, particularly with the matter-of-fact way they described just about every trick done. The PBS version, meanwhile, carried almost no descriptions (AFAIC) of how any trick was done, and the tone was much more glowing with warmth and almost reverence (given that it's for American Experience, focusing on a heroic American's achievements more than just biography, that makes sense).

    Makes me want to rewatch the American Experience version now, to compare more! Just funny how basically the same documentary had to be made a particular way for Americans and then another quite different way for Brits.