Films of Harry Houdini – Haldane of the Secret Service (1923)

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haldane-1Tribute to Harry Houdini – Haldane of the Secret Service (1923)
Cast:      HOUDINI as Heath Haldane
Gladys Leslie as Adele Ormsby
Wm. Humphrey as Edward Ormsby
Chas. Fang as Ah Ling

(No writing credits given, although assumed it was written by Houdini)
Directed by Harry Houdini

Plot: Harry Houdini (billed here simply as HOUDINI) stars as Health Haldane, a Secret Service agent who is in pursuit of a counterfeiting ring. He travels the world, facing death numerous times, while falling in love with Adele Ormsby. Despite her pending marriage and initial questionable motives, Haldane is drawn to her. And just who is the mysterious Dr. Yu?

Personal Thoughts: As Houdini kept trying to make his film career work, he discovered another way his film company could profit. While traveling in Europe, he found that there were many films waiting for distribution in the United States. One of these films was the French film, The Soul of Bronze (1918). It also appears Houdini purchased a box of films at an auction and distributed one of them while attaching his name to it. He added English title cards to Aldo Molinari’s Il Misterio di Osiris (1919) and even translated the novel, putting his own picture on the cover of it. Records are vague but it appears to have been done without the knowledge of the original film makers.

haldane-2While on that same European trip, Houdini would film several sequences to be added to Haldane of the Secret Service, including shots in London. Some add atmosphere to the movie while others stand out and aren’t as well-woven into the flow of the film. Released on September 30, 1923, it was not well-received by critics and I can concur with their original thoughts. At nearly 85 minutes long, it is poorly paced and written, plodding along with little action. There is only one escape sequence and it seems quite forced in the storyline. Houdini gets the girl in the final scene, per usual, but lacks very little charisma with his leading lady, also per usual. This was the least appealing of the Houdini films and I recommend it only for those who desire to complete his filmography, but make it the last one you watch.

Houdini would travel the country in support of the film but the writing was on the celluloid. Houdini’s marketability in Hollywood was waning. He name was being used to help sell the films, which now offered very little to the eager audiences. Houdini realized it was no longer profitable to either make films or acquire foreign product. He returned to his stage act and would continue to impress audiences until 1926. He would die of peritonitis and a ruptured appendix on October 31, 1926, at the age of 52.

Houdini’s legacy has survived the ages. Many of his holdings and paper archives on spiritualism now reside in the Library of Congress. Houdini’s estate belongings and memorabilia were willed to his friend John Mulholland, who died in 1970, and were subsequently acquired by magician David Copperfield. He now possesses more than 80,000 items, including many personal props that were once owned by Houdini’s brother Theodore Hardeen and were supposed to be destroyed upon his death.

houdini-graveHoudini’s life has also been the subject of many films over the years. Most notable have been Houdini (1953) with Tony Curtis, The Great Houdini (1976) with Paul Michael Glaser (Starsky and Hutch) and Houdini (2014) starring Adrien Brody. In the spring of 2016, there was even a short-lived television series, Houdini and Doyle, which featured Michael Weston in a glamorized and fictional portrayal of Houdini’s relationship with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

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Films of Harry Houdini – The Man from Beyond (1922)

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the-man-from-beyond-1Tribute to Harry Houdini – The Man From Beyond (1922)
Cast:     Harry Houdini as Howard Hillary
Arthur Maude as Dr. Gilbert Trent (The Flag)
Albert Tavernier as Dr. Crawford Strange (Too Many Kisses with Harpo Marx)
Erwin Connelly as Dr. Gregory Sinclair (Sherlock Jr.)
Jane Connelly as Felice Strange/Felice Norcross (Sherlock Jr.)

Story by Harry Houdini
Adapted for the screen by Coolidge Streeter
Directed by Burton L. King (The Master Mystery)

Plot: Harry Houdini stars as Howard Hillary, a man frozen in Arctic ice for a hundred years, only to be thawed and resurrected. He was killed by another man jealous of his love for his fiancée Felice. Now, he meets another Felice, who resembles his lost love, but he is thought to be a mad man. After being locked up and, subsequently, escaping from an insane asylum, he joins forces with Felice in search of her missing father.

the-man-from-beyond-2Personal Thoughts: This was the first film made under the newly formed Houdini Picture Corporation with Houdini as president. Houdini’s own questionable belief in the supernatural and possible life after death plays a key part in the films’ over all message of lovers reuniting through reincarnation. This was to be the first of as many as four feature films a year, a goal that was never achieved. Houdini had hoped to make adaptations of The Count of Monte Cristo or Edgar Allan Poe stories, which also didn’t happen.

The Man from Beyond focuses less on spectacular escapes and more on the plot of reincarnation. This is somewhat disappointing for fans wanting to see what Houdini did best. This forces Houdini’s acting to take center stage, which leaves his weaknesses as an actor exposed for all to critique. When the movie opened on April 2, 1922, Houdini attempted to pull off his old marketing plan from The Grim Game. He offered a $5,000 reward to anyone who could guarantee a greater thrill in another motion picture. Houdini did brave the cold waters of Lake Placid in New York to film some of the Arctic scenes. As Hollywood legend has it, an alternate ending was even filmed just in case Houdini perished.

While I enjoyed The Man from Beyond, it is not Houdini’s best, perhaps because of the lack of escapes. The story was okay but not to the caliber of his previous efforts. Still, it’s well worth your time but there are better films to watch what made Houdini famous.

Trivia:

  • Actress Jane Connelly died in 1925 from a nervous breakdown at the age of 42. She only made one other film, Sherlock Jr. (1924) with Buster Keaton. She was married to Erwin Connelly and was handpicked by Houdini to appear in this film as his love interest.
  • The film did suffer some notoriety with Houdini’s scenes in the insane asylum. The New York State Hospital Commission objected to what they believed to be an outdated representation of mental health facilities. After a great deal of back and forth negotiations, a title card was eventually added as a disclaimer but not until the summer of 1922.
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a public letter of endorsement for the film. However, shortly after it’s’ release, Lady Doyle held a séance where she claimed to have contacted Houdini’s mother. He believed her to be lying and a fraud, resulting in a long-running and very public feud between Sir Doyle and Houdini. The two men never reconciled their friendship prior to Houdini’s death in 1926.

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Films of Harry Houdini – Terror Island (1920)

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terror-island-1Tribute to Harry Houdini – Terror Island (1920)
Cast:      Harry Houdini as Harry Harper
Jack Brammall as Ensign Tom Starkey
Lila Lee as Beverly West (The Unholy Three)
Wilton Taylor as Job Mourdant
Eugene Pallette as Guy Mordant (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington)

Written by Arthur B. Reeve (The Grim Game) & John W. Grey (The Kid Brother)
Adapted for the screen by Walter Woods
Directed by James Cruze (The Great Gabbo)

Plot: Harry Harper has invented a new type of submarine with an electronic periscope. However, before he gets a chance to finish it, the story hits the newspapers and fortune seekers want to use it to find gold and riches buried in the South Seas. Unfortunately, the father of the woman he loves, Beverly West, has been kidnapped by cannibals and unless she turns over a pearl that belongs to one of her idols, he’ll become the main course. Meanwhile, the Mourdant family wishes to capture his invention and Harry must fight them off through a series of daring escapes.

terror-island-2Personal Thoughts & Trivia: Originally produced under the title Salvage, Terror Island is a sensationalized epic on the high seas with cannibals that are definitely politically incorrect by today’s standards. Despite that modern-day flaw, it is the most professional looking of all of Houdini’s films. With the island of Catalina as a filming location, the entire film appears to be a more cohesive effort with a lessened emphasis on the escapes of Houdini and more on the overall plot. Unfortunately, many critics refused to take the film serious before the first reel even started due to Houdini’s presence, which by this time was a negative hurdle to surpass. It was only moderately successful and was the last major studio effort for Houdini.

With two of the seven reels now missing, Terror Island moves along at a very brisk 50 minute pace. It’s actually quite enjoyable. Unfortunately, Houdini became a little frustrated following its lack of success and traveled to London to explore psychic phenomena with his friend, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is this time period that served as the background for the short-lived Fox Television series, Houdini and Doyle.  Houdini was fond of exposing spiritualism frauds despite his own hopes of communicating with his wife should he die before she did. When Sir Doyle’s wife claimed to have communicated with Houdini’s mother, he believed her a fraud as well due to several inconsistencies. This would essentially end his friendship with Doyle.

Houdini would soon be ready to form his own motion picture company as his next film, The Man from Beyond, would become his most famous effort.

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Richard Chamberlain Joins Boom Howdy Website Staff

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allied-posterI’m excited to announce I’ve been invited to join the staff of Boom Howdy, a fantastic website offering news, reviews, podcasts and much more. What’s even more exciting is that it covers all genres, giving something for everyone, no matter what your area of interest.

My first film review is something you won’t find here at Monster Movie Kid. However, it is a sneak preview of some exciting changes coming in 2017. Until then, take a look at my review for Allied (2016), the new Brad Pitt World War II thriller.

Thank you Jeff Owens for this great opportunity! Be sure to read his reviews at Boom Howdy, as well as his contributions to the classic horror community with his great website, Classic Horrors Club. And tell him Richard Chamberlain, the Monster Movie Kid sent ya!