Friday, December 16, 2016

Houdini (1953)

Harry Houdini has long been someone who has captured the imagination of the ordinary man. Performing daring acts unlike anyone else in history, his life is a natural for stories and films. I first learned about Houdini from my great-uncle. It was a fascinating tale and I have never forgotten it.

Houdini (1953) was the first of many films made about this singular figure. It was also the first film that paired real-life couple Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh together. Starting with young Houdini's early days as a wild man in a carnival, it tells the story of how he met his wife Bess, his growing career, the problems that his acts brought to their marriage, and up to his dramatic final act.

Houdini: It'll be the most dangerous thing I've ever done.

Bess: And the most dangerous!
Houdini: Bess, people aren't going to stand in line and watch me pull rabbits out of a hat.

Bess: Why? Why must every act you do be flirting with death?
Houdini: Because it's the only act that'll hold an audience spellbound. People fall asleep at the opera, but they stay wide awake at the bullfights because there's one man defying death down in that arena. You take this out of my act and I'm nothing!

Bess: You keep it in and we're both nothing!


  • Three years before this film was made, 20th-Century Fox was negotiating with Houdini's family to make a picture called "The Life of Houdini" and starring Burt Lancaster in the title role.

  • A talented amateur magician, Tony Curtis performed most of his own tricks in this film.

  • The movie contains several factual errors, the most telling of which is the dramatization of Harry Houdini's death. In the film he almost drowns in the 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 did, indeed, rupture his appendix. He later collapsed on stage, was taken to the hospital and died there.

  • Although Houdini didn't die onstage at a Halloween performance, as this film would have you believe, he did, indeed, die on Halloween, 1926, several weeks after his last stage performance. To this day, in Houdini's memory, October 31st is celebrated as International Magic Day.

This post is part of the Grand Finale of the At the Circus Blogathon hosted by Critica Retro and Serendipitous Anachronisms. Be sure to read all of the other amazing "acts," including the Grand Finale!!


  1. Well, I didn't know Tony Curtis was an amateur magician! That's soooo cool!
    The film Houdini is very enteratining, despite the several factual errors. I enjoyed it, and I knew nothing about Houdini's biography when I watched it.
    Thanks for joining us at the grand finale!

    1. I didn't either when I watched it :)

      Thanks again for hosting!!