A vivid Technicolor account of the life of the famous escapologist Harry Houdini (played here by Tony Curtis), from his early days as a carnival magician to his ultimate glorious success where he is hailed by the world as the greatest daredevil and escape artist in history.
Many of the actual tricks and stunts that Houdini used are shown – getting loose from handcuffs and strait jackets, getting out of a locked trunk while at the bottom of an icy river – and highlights of the film include his escape from Scotland Yard’s “Impregnable” jail, his arrest in Germany as a fraud, and his acquittal after a courtroom demonstration of his techniques.
While the film contains much of Houdini’s magic (17 elaborate “illusions”, in fact), it does not overlook the love story between Harry and Bess Houdini (played by Curtis’ real-life wife, Janet Leigh).
Houdini was originally meant to be shot in black and white, but a decision was made during pre-production to film it in colour to take full advantage of the costumes and sets.
The film contains several factual errors, especially the dramatisation of Houdini’s death. Here, he almost drowns in the water torture tank trick and dies on the stage in the arms of his wife.
In real life, he was punched in the stomach by a college student who had heard that Houdini could withstand any blow without harm. This ruptured his appendix, and he later collapsed on stage, was taken to the hospital and died there.
German Prosecuting Attorney
British Jail Warden
Malcolm Lee Beggs