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  • This film did a good job creating the atmosphere of the turn-of-the-century show business world Houdini moved in when getting his start. I had high hopes at the beginning, which covers his early career performing with his brother, then later with his young wife, Bess, as they go from one fleabag music hall to another looking for their big break. Jonathan Schaech is very convincing in his portrayal of Houdini as a consummate professional and egoist, driven to succeed and be the very best at what he does. The movie starts to lose focus at the moment Houdini's career takes off; from this point on, it takes on a soap-operaish tone as it turns its attention away from his performing and towards his private life. The Great Mystifier turns into a slightly pathetic character, torn between his inflexible mother and his grouchy wife, and his fascinating career recedes into the background, where it serves as a mere backdrop to the story of his troubled relationship with Bess. Not only do the filmmakers ignore Houdini's unique position in the world of the theatre in favour of a rather hackneyed romantic drama, they go on to change the facts to fit their theme. Bess was not a perpetual wet blanket on Houdini's career; she was a theatre performer herself, and she often worked as his assistant. Though she must have been anxious for his success and safety in his work, it is inaccurate to portray her as frequently on her knees in a Catholic church, like the wife of a mafia don, imploring divine intercession to help an unendurable situation. By all accounts theirs was a generally happy marriage. Nor was Houdini's brother the incompetent and failure he is portrayed as here; as Hardeen, he was himself a successful magician, though never as celebrated as his older brother.

    But these failures are as nothing compared with the ending, which completely turns on its head everything we know about Houdini, and depicts a seance succeeding in bringing back his spirit after death. It is well known that seances conducted for several years after his death were a complete failure, and Houdini himself had only scorn for the spiritualistic frauds who preyed upon the public. It is even more confusing to have the seance succeed, when at the same moment it is being proved that the medium in charge is a phony. I think that, in the end, the film makers simply did not know what really to make of Houdini, and threw everything they could lay their hands on at him, hoping that something would stick. A film with lots of opportunities, most of them missed.
  • In this 1998 tv biography of Houdini, Johnathon Schaech passionately, and incidentally attractively, stars in the title role. "Houdini" is the perspective of his life by his wife, Bessie Houdini, 10 years after his death during a publicized "last seance," through which she hopes to communicate with him. It is an emotional, love-stricken wife's memories of her obsessed, but loving, late husband. As such, this movie is not a detailed documentary of his life, but an emotionally, romantic reminiscing of the life of the man. As a love-story, Houdini has effectively worked its magic.

    It is filled with much admiration, sentiment, and emotional angst as expected from a loving, but emotionally-conflicted widow at the time of her husband's death. Bessie's portrayal seems focused on her mounting discomfort and tension over the course of decades of their marriage due to her late husband's obsessesive life's work to entertain with death-defying feats and his driven attempts to unmask spiritual charlatans as he attempts to communicate with his late mother.

    "Houdini" does little to educate us on the many details and exploits of the late master magician, as I had originally expected. I realized, in hindsight, that this interpretation of Houdini's life makes no attempt to provide a significant and detailed retelling of his life's obsessions, but provides just enough information to provide a background to the relationships with the significant women in his life, primarily with his wife and secondly with his mother.

    Compared to two other Houdini biographies I remembered from watching on tv many years ago (namely, 1953 or 1957 "Houdini" starring Tony Curtis and 1976 "The Great Houdini" starring Paul Michael Glaser) I find it a more passionate portrayal of the great illusionist and escape artist and offers greater emotional depths that the other two films did not provide; in those portrayals, they attempt to pack in as much information as possible, but unfortunately, some erroneous info. as well. "Houdini" fortunately debunks a popular myth that he did died on stage immediately after failing to escape during an act; in reality, he had died days after his last performance in a hospital, on Halloween of 1926.

    Pen Densham, director, writer, & executive producer, turned out an interesting and entertaining & romantic biography. Johnathon Schaech gives a newly alluring and passionate dimension to Houdini, and possibly the most multi-dimensional role, as well, he has yet portrayed. Stacy Edwards sympathetically portrays the worriedly tormented, alcoholic, at times shrewish, but loving wife. Other supporting cast members, Paul Sorvino as Blackburn (radio show host), Rhea Perlman as Esther (spiritualist), George Segal as Martin Beck (Houdini's manager), Mark Ruffalo as Theo (Houdini's brother), and Grace Zabriskie as Cecelia Weiss (Houdini's, a.k.a. Erich Weiss', mother) turned in from suitable to quite good performances, particularly for a tv film.
  • 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.
  • ...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.
  • Below average drama which tells the real-life story of Harry Houdini, the man who was known as the greatest wizard of the world. Although the theme here is very curious and interesting, the movie goes on and on only developing a series of performances made by Houdini in his long career. The movie does not give a more deep look in the personality of the controversial magician and the last scene is a obvious and not original approach toward one of Houdini most important concerns: life after death.

    I give this a 5 (five).
  • auntyeri22 September 2001
    7/10
    So-So
    I'll be honest- I only sat to watch this movie because I ADORE Jonathan Schaech so I would've been fine with whatever came on the screen. Fortunately, it was an entertaining story even as the previous reviewer mentioned it did feel very rushed. I at least learned a little bit about his illusions.
  • This is a TV movie covering the career, life and afterlife of the illusionist Harry Houdini. It is a romanticized skeletal treatment, covering the basics of the man (raised in poverty, self taught magician, life long mother issues, medium debunker) without any real depth or showing anything new. It is a well done enough production, recreating some of Houdini's daring feats, and the acting is decent (and Jonathon Schaech certainly looks fit enough to pull off Houdini's escapes and high tolerance for pain) but ultimately it is a frame without a portrait, non revealing of the Ehrich Weiss behind the Harry Houdini.

    Favorite Line: "I fell in love with Ehrich Weiss; I put up with Harry Houdini."

    Worth a rent if you have a mildly curious about Houdini itch to scratch and an hour and a half free.
  • The biggest trick the writer/directer pulls on us is to hang this fantasy on one of the century's great showbusiness characters. Houdini, the short, wiry-haired immigrant, who spell-bound audiences with the intensity of his eyes and his haunting intimation of his'powers'; angry, petulant, vain and childish, the man puppy-loved his mother till the day he died, indeed, adolescent is perhaps the word to explain his emotional range; but so thrilling, so charismatic was he, audiences would sit electrified, staring at the theatre curtain for an hour, two hours, while behind it, Houdini was struggling manacles, boxes, milk cans... So far away from any attempt at showing us anything about the real man, and with Jonathon Schaech's bland performance not holding the film together, the writer then doesn't even seem to enjoy the world of vaudeville and illusion very much, but spends more time on the seances and the soap-opera domestics. I'm not angry at this movie because I'm a purist who believes Houdini's life is sacrosanct, but that the man and his life are so fascinating, and so full of episodes revealing and suspenseful, that a fictional version of the story can only fail by comparison.
  • Chris-1507 January 1999
    This was such a great movie! I am not a fan of magic and didn't think I'd like Houdini...however, it was such a sweet love story...I couldn't get enough of it...definitely a movie I'd love to see again. Johnathon Schaech was so believable as Houdini I can't wait to see his other movies. Great job!!
  • I give this movie a 9 out of 10 for accuracy. The movie was not accurate but it was an awesome entertainment film. If you watch this movie like a movie and not a biography you'll love it. If you watch it the other way around you'll hate it. It was nothing more than a fictional story that had great romance, death defying escapes and personal screw ups with his brother, mother, and wife that ended terrificly. I would encourage anybody that likes magic, escape acts, and romance in a movie to watch it. Houdinit is a movie that I have watched several time and would watch again. I love the song "Rosebell" that happens to play all throughout the movie.
  • abc-15510 April 2005
    having studied the live of this remarkable man - Harry Houdini - I was looking forward to this movie. Unfortunately I was terribly disappointed. Too many facts are totally wrong and they makers have not done justice to the genius Houdini who has invented several great Illusion tricks for magic. Houdini was a true fighter against fakes and mediums who claimed super natural power. This had nothing to do with his wish to speak to his mother after she died. I do not mind some freedom while filming a biography but somehow the story must fit the truth. Houdini's brother was a fine gentleman and not a bit like this movie figure, Houdini's wife Bess was absolutely loyal to her husband and further more, Harry Houdini knew Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for many years, and not just for a dinner, as shown in the film. This film is useless. Sorry.
  • Vincentiu29 September 2010
    It is not a biographic movie. It is not homage to a great artist. It is only exploration of a myth. With errors, good intentions and a lot of exaggerations. A film for Johnathon Schaech's charm and for beginning of childhood dreams taste. Delicate and sweet, for who knows than magic is an ingredient of existence. For dreamers. And for remember a name. Old, lost, fascinating. It is not a film about Houdini. It is a short story about a character with his name but others ways of life and different nuances of facts. May be a Rider Digest material. About a shadow of a strange time for who the limits are fiction. "Houdini" is not a bad movie. And not a masterpiece. Only a show, very delicate with details but , in fact, a beautiful stamp, it is first step to discover a impressive science to broke the limits and to understand the days more than a summer rain.