I've always seen this as an abomination of how the real Houdini would conclude the escape. By all accounts, when the tension was at its height, Houdini would come crashing through the front of the curtains out of breath as if he had just made his escape in the nick of time. That's how the real Houdini did things, Hollywood!
And then I found this illustration from Houdini's performance at the Cleveland Hippodrome in 1915 and now I need to shut up.
|Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 30, 1915.
Okay, maybe this is just the illustrator placing Harry atop the cell as his own artistic interpretation. Or maybe this is what he saw. Which would mean Hollywood can occasionally get things (accidentally) right.