A Movie A Day: Tony Curtis as HOUDINI (1953)
Drop it. It will make you famous, but it will kill you.
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection or from my DVR and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Today we follow Janet Leigh over from yesterday’s noir thriller ACT OF VIOLENCE to today’s 1953 biopic HOUDINI.
She co-stars with her then husband Tony Curtis as the titular Harry Houdini and you can tell they were still deep in love in this film. If I’m not mistaken this was their first feature pairing, the only earlier co-starring effort I found after a quick IMDB search was a Jerry Lewis short film called HOW TO SMUGGLE A HERNIA ACROSS THE BORDER (1949).
They have an easy chemistry in this film that helps keep it moving quickly along. Add on top of that Houdini’s already fascinating life and Tony Curtis at his charismatic best and you get a quite memorable and entertaining movie.
A big surprise here was that this film was produced by the legendary George Pal, known mostly in geek circles for his sci-fi of this era like WAR OF THE WORLDS (which was actually produced concurrently with HOUDINI), DESTINATION MOON, WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE and THE TIME MACHINE.
The film shares a lot of those sci-fi aesthetics, especially in the color scheme. The bright Technicolor world perfectly reflects the light tone of the flick.
Sure, it may not be terribly accurate, but I think it does a fantastic job at capturing the legend of Houdini.
We start by seeing him play a two-bit traveling circus and doing a few tricks for young Bess (Leigh) who he instantly falls for. She rebuts him at first, but he tries again another two times. Third time’s the charm (according to Houdini in the movie everything happens in threes for him) and they elope almost instantly.
The first act pretty much deals with him settling for a job at a lock-making factory when the poor traveling magician act is too much for Leigh to handle. He’s miserable, but he wants to keep her happy.
Through a series of circumstances Houdini ends up proving his worth at a magician’s ball, being the first man to successfully wrestle out of a straight jacket, and wins a trip to Europe.
The movie really pulled me in when they got to Europe and he was able to follow his dream.
The magic in this movie holds up even today. I know how they did a lot of the tricks, but it was fascinating watching Curtis actually pulling them off. Sure, some of the time director George Marshall cuts away and back again, allowing for some cheating, but a lot of the gags were actually done by Curtis and Leigh, who takes his side as his assistant… and boy oh boy was Leigh f’n hot in her magician’s assistant get up!
I wonder what it’s like for Jamie Lee Curtis to watch some of these old movies with her parents, especially this one where they were still young in life and marriage, a good five years away from bringing Jamie Lee into the world. It must be both sweet and bizarre to have a record of your parents, see that obvious chemistry and adoration recorded in unreal beautiful Technicolor.
Anyway, I’m going to keep this short. I just finished watching the movie after a full day of movies and I have an interview in 4 hours followed by my final day of Fantastic Fest… I will surely be falling into a rather long and deep coma when I return home from the closing night party.
I will say if you decide to give this one a spin (which I recommend) keep an eye out for the great Scotland Yard jailbreak challenge and the pretty tense water-escape gone wrong where Houdini gets trapped in a freezing river under a foot of ice.
Final Thoughts: The magic is still very fun to watch, the photography is lush and beautiful (even in the then standard full frame format), the two leads are great together and the legend of Houdini is captured perfectly, even if the truth wasn’t so much. They touch upon his obsession with the afterlife, but really only dedicated about 4 minutes of screentime with Houdini’s fascination with psychics and finding a direct line to his dead mother. We do end rather abruptly, but on Houdini’s promise to find a way to come back if there is any way at all. That aspect of his life has always really interested me, but that’s not the whole aim of this flick and I understand that. I really enjoyed the film, which is a nice bit of luck considering just how fucking tired I am.
The schedule for the next 7 days is:
Thursday, September 25th: MONEY FROM HOME (1953)
Friday, September 26th: PAPA’S DELICATE CONDITION (1963)
Saturday, September 27th: DILLINGER (1945)
Sunday, September 28th: BATTLE OF THE BULGE (1965)
Monday, September 29th: DAISY KENYON (1947)
Tuesday, September 30th: LAURA (1944)
Tomorrow we hit one of the more obscure Jerry Lewis/Dean Martin comedies MONEY FROM HOME via director George Marshall. I’ve only seen one or two Martin and Lewis comedies, but I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen, so I hope this one ends up being good.
You may have noticed that I haven’t added another movie to the Upcoming Films line-up. The reason is because the next movie up would be October 1st and I don’t know what that title will be.
I’m freezing the regular schedule after LAURA until November 1st, when I’ll pick it back up with Fox Noir BLACK WIDOW. For the entire month of October I will be watching randomly picked horror titles. No connecting tissues, no real order, just a movie picked out of a hat essentially.
I have compiled somewhere between 40-60 horror movies I have not seen and all of them will go into this random pull. Some of them are new (like Argento’s latest MOTHER OF TEARS, which I haven’t seen yet), but most of them are ‘40s-‘80s, with a particular bent towards ‘70s and ‘80s horror.
This weekend I’ll create a page that has every title in the running (I may add on as I pick up more titles from here until the end of October, which seems to be when all the good horror DVD sales start) and link you to it as soon as I have it done. But that’ll be after tomorrow’s Fantastic Fest and after I awaken from my movie-coma.
I think it’s going to be a lot of fun and I look forward to hitting a ton of cheesy fun horror flicks!
June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
August 24th: The Rack
August 25th: Until They Sail
August 26th: Somebody Up There Likes Me
August 27th: The Set-Up
August 28th: The Devil & Daniel Webster
August 29th: Cat People
August 30th: The Curse of the Cat People
August 31st: The 7th Victim
September 1st: The Ghost Ship
September 2nd: Isle of the Dead
September 3rd: Bedlam
September 4th: Black Sabbath
September 5th: Black Sunday
September 6th: Twitch of the Death Nerve
September 7th: Tragic Ceremony
September 8th: Lisa & The Devil
September 9th: Baron Blood
September 10th: A Shot In The Dark
September 11th: The Pink Panther
September 12th: The Return of the Pink Panther
September 13th: The Pink Panther Strikes Again
September 14th: Revenge of the Pink Panther
September 15th: Trail of the Pink Panther
September 16th: The Real Glory
September 17th: The Winning of Barbara Worth
September 18th: The Cowboy and the Lady
September 19th: Dakota
September 20th: Red River
September 21st: Terminal Station
September 22nd: The Search
September 23rd: Act of Violence
Readers Talkbackcomments powered by Disqus
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Sept. 25, 2008, 6:47 a.m. CST
I love this film. Hollywood is ripe for a new Houdini biopic
Sept. 25, 2008, 6:49 a.m. CST
Seriously, they could be father and son.
Sept. 25, 2008, 7:48 a.m. CST
by Mr Nicholas
I enjoy all the reviews, mind you.
Sept. 25, 2008, 8:26 a.m. CST
Anyone know if it was any good?
Sept. 25, 2008, 9:04 a.m. CST
I remember them starring in the TV version of the Houdini story in the 70's. I recall her at a seance trying to bring back the spirit of Houdini which gave it a supernatural twist.
Sept. 25, 2008, 10:34 a.m. CST
Probably saw this at least 4-5 times on the late show when I was growing up. Great memories, especially of the seance scene and the water tank.
Sept. 25, 2008, 11:06 a.m. CST
Keep this up, tho I strongly strongly urge a 'movie of the week' for two reasons:<p> *thicker talkbacks about each movie<p> *less chance of this feature burning out in November.
Sept. 25, 2008, 4 p.m. CST
It's straitjacket, not straightjacket. It doesn't make you straight and it isn't straight, since they pull your arms into a hard bend. It is constricting - in other words, strait.
Sept. 25, 2008, 7:26 p.m. CST
...are you Ithaca (NY) Times movie critic Bryan VanCampan? Because if you're not, you should have a talk with the guy. He's reading your reviews and posting summaries of them (credited to you) in his weekly column.
Sept. 26, 2008, 12:06 a.m. CST
by Bob Cryptonight
Houdini had a very interesting career, but the Curtis film fictionalizes a lot of it...especially his death.
Sept. 26, 2008, 5:58 a.m. CST
Bryan VanCampan, but he emailed me early on as the column began and was one of the first fans. I wasn't aware he was summarizing them still, but I knew he did it at the beginning of the column.<BR><BR>Speaking of, I'm running late, but before I allow myself to sleep I will finish up today's AMAD and write it up... My day started at 9am with an interview and the final run of movies at Fantastic Fest and a closing night party that I didn't get back from until well after 3am. Yeeeessshhh... I will slip into a nice, quiet movie coma after tonight's AMAD.
Sept. 26, 2008, 7:11 a.m. CST
by Grammaton Cleric Binks
I need my AMAD fix. Seriously Quint, you'll need to rest up for Battle of the Bulge.
Sept. 26, 2008, 4 p.m. CST
by Lang The Cat
I really would like to know more about Houdini's relationships with A. C. Doyle, H. P. Lovecraft, Doyle's investigations of Jack the Ripper, Spiritualism, and possibly Tolkien and Stoker. Who is the basis for Moriarty? Was it a certain Scottish Freemason? Did Houdini meet Rasputin while traveling in Europe? And what about Rasputin's Diary? <BR> What events may have been connected with Houdini? Meyerling? The Zimmerman Telegram? <Br> Did his connection with the Spiritualist Church and their royal connections bring him into contact with members of the Signal Corps like Valentine Fleming and Tolkien?<BR> That is the film I want to see!
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