Tribute 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.
Personal 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.
- 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.