“What you are about to see is Fact. It is also Fiction. We defy you to tell the difference.”
This enigmatic opening statement not only personifies the brilliant Houdini TV miniseries but also the man himself, Harry Houdini the most famous magician and escape artist that ever lived.
Telling his story from childhood to death, through his struggles as Erik Weisz an impoverished immigrant kid growing up in a small town in American to his many amazing escapology stunts as Harry Houdini which brought him fame and fortune to his travels far and wide and his troubled relationship with his wife and his dedication to his mother this two part 4 hour long special brings to life one of history’s greatest showmen.
Directed by Uli Edel and written by Nicholas Meyer the series is based on the 1976 book Houdini: A Mind in Chains by Nicholas Myer’s father Bernard C. Meyer and blends fact and fiction as Houdini played pitch perfectly by Adrien Brody seeks success, invents death defying mechanisms, joins the secret service to spy on America’s enemies and encounters the great names of the era from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Rasputin the mad monk.
Narrated throughout by Houdini as we jump backwards and forwards in time the first part reveals his humble beginnings as a circus sideshow act and the blossoming of his relationship with his wife Bess played by Cabin in the Woods Kristen Connolly.
Gaining acclaim from freeing himself from various handcuffs and confinements including the famous Chinese water torture cell, Houdini realised he could make a living from escaping and the section is framed by his jump off a bridge into a hole in an ice covered lake, a stunt that like many he performed brings him nearer to death than he could ever imagine.
Part two interestingly focuses on the passing of his dedicated mother and his quest to contact her through the raft of spiritualists and mediums that claimed to have supernatural powers and could commune with the deceased.
Knowing every trick in the book having performed them himself Houdini is disgusted by these vultures and charlatans dedicating his latter life to uncovering them all for what they truly are worryingly upsetting powerful people loyal to the spiritualist cause. The tragedy is that his crusade is not born from hatred but pain and loss as he is desperate to find someone with real powers so he can speak to his mother one last time.
With a top notch cast and high production values Houdini is also stylistically impressive with some excellent effects including extreme close ups of safe mechanisms as he picks the locks and x-ray shots of him dislocating his shoulder in order to escape a strait jacket.
Excellently structured it is the story that grips you most of all shifting as it does between fantastical romp and deep drama as we are offered a peek behind the curtain not only of Houdini’s tricks but his relationships and most interestingly his motivation.
A brilliant self-publicists and immensely inventive magician the series details a man driven to be the best whose dare devil acts offer literal and figurative escapism to the masses he entertains. The blurring of fact and fiction is as much for entertainment value as it is a true representation of the mythology Houdini himself created whilst still alive in an attempt to astound audiences everywhere.
Fast paced with plenty of action and amazing escapes, many of which Brody performed himself, the series offers an amazing insight to Harry Houdini and a great introduction to anyone unaware of him and the massive impact he had on modern magic from David Blaine to Derren Brown to Dynamo all of which would be nothing without him.