When Tony Curtis played Harry Houdini in the 1953 George Pal movie, the fact that it wasn't historically accurate wasn't of serious concern, and the movie is entertaining for what it is.
The TV movie THE GREAT HOUDINIS was a hasty little film of no particular interest; it's hardly memorable. But by the time 1998 rolled around, the opportunity existed to tell an accurate version of Houdini's life -- and Pen Densham not only wildly blows this, he made a movie that's actually insulting to Houdini's memory, which wasn't true of the earlier versions.
The movie falsifies every relationship it depicts; Houdini's brother wasn't a whining ingrate, Houdini's wife Bess was steadfast and loyal, Houdini knew Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for many years, not for the single lunchtime meeting shown in the movie.
But the insulting aspect is the element of spiritualism; Houdini spent years debunking it, and NOT just because mediums couldn't put him in touch with his mother. For the movie to show that survival after death is REAL is a betrayal of one of the main aspects of Houdini's life.
And they also treat his career all wrong. Where was the Handcuff King? Where was the magician who created gigantic illusions, like walking through a wall or making an elephant disappear? Like the George Pal version, this one also invents a lot of malarkey involving the Chinese Water Torture.
Houdini was a very interesting and colorful performer, and he deserves a reasonably accurate biography instead of more claptrap like this.
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