Review

  • ...but he can't escape mediocre movie adaptations of his life. This version is merely adequate when it could have been more. Huge amounts of his career are glossed over (his mixed-religion marriage, his brief movie career in Hollywood, his piloting skills, and even many of his escapes), and the focus is mostly on his romance with Bess Weiss. As such, much of this plays out as a soap opera rather than as the biography of the world's greatest performer. His wife's a drunk (until the end, when that plot element is forgotten), his mother is a harsh tyrant (except we don't see anything to really suggest that), and his brother is a whining ingrate. In other words, it's dreadfully rushed: we're left to assume much, both about Houdini's career and his family life, rather than be shown it. Oddly, the revelation of how Houdini did the milk bottle escape in the middle comes across as unnecessary padding when time could have been spent telling us some of the important stuff. The best parts are the bigger actors in minor roles: Rhea Perlman as a psychic, Paul Sorvino as a glory-hungry radio announcer, George Segal as Houdini's manager, and David Warner as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (although they screw up his relationship with Houdini as well). The ending, with Houdini appearing unseen at his wife's 10th anniversary seance to contact him, redeems much of the movie with a truly romantic ending, though - they actually spend about 12 minutes on it. Unfortunately, by that time we've seen so much of Houdini's Wife the Drunken Shrew that this touching ending is a bit out of place. But hey, at least they (mostly) got how Houdini died correct, which is more than one can say about the previous '53 and '76 versions.