One of the most abused tropes of the biopic genre is the voice-over narration, and rarely has it been as tortured as it is in this History Channel biopic of escape artist Harry Houdini. “One way or another, we all want to escape” Adrien Brody intones in the title role. “I can escape from almost anything - handcuffs, straightjackets, you name it. But the one thing I can’t seem to escape from… is me”. And that’s before the opening credits! Such pun-laden gems continue non-stop over the course of two episodes, overshadowing much of this limited series’ finer attributes.
Chief amongst these is the breadth of coverage afforded to Houdini’s various endeavours. Apart from his career as an escapologist, Houdini’s pioneering work in aviation and film are also touched upon for the first time. Regrettably, so is the magician’s supposed role as a spy, which seems an unnecessary addition to an already crowded life. The biopic also speculates on how Houdini achieved some of his illusions. Though the deception may seem simplistic by modern standards, remaining true to biopic’s period makes the depiction of these tricks all the more enjoyable.
Veteran screenwriter Nicholas Meyer based his screenplay on his father’s book ‘Houdini: A Mind in Chains: a Psychoanalytic Portrait’, indicating the genesis for much of the film’s endless psychobabble. However, Meyer would later state that the extensive voiceover featured in the film was not part of his original script, and who could blame him from wanting to disown such gems as “The one thing more devastating than a punch to the gut was an arrow through the heart”.
Lumbered with the unenviable task of delivering these lines, Adrien Brody’s monotone voice gives the impression he did so under sufferance.
as Harry Houdini
as Bess Houdini
According to the website www.wildabouthoudini.com, the following are just some of this biopic’s inaccuracies:
Houdini did not find fame by escaping from a Johnson County jail in 1896. It was only after returning from his successful tour in Europe in 1905 that he become a star in America.
Houdini did not meet Jim Collins in an Ohio magic store. Collins was born in England, and it was there that Houdini hired him to be his assistant.
Houdini was not a spy.
Houdini did not have an affair with British painter Elizabeth Thompson aka Lady Butler.