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

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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