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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

HOUDINI (1953)

Tony Curtis & Janet Leigh (Mr & Mrs at the time) make a charming & handsome Mr & Mrs Houdini in this fact-challenged bio-pic. But there’s only so much they can do to liven up the bland proceedings. As magician & escape artist, Harry Houdini gave audiences a combination of thrills & perversity that are homogenized out of existence in this chintzy George Pal production for Paramount. (The same studio that released films from the real Harry Houdini. See poster, below.) Pal specialized in kiddie-fare, often damn good kiddie-fare, but his gentle touch is all wrong here. And he gets little help and less magic from vet megger George Marshall whose standard-operating-procedure tames even death-defying stunts. (And little help from the print used on this DVD edition which shows slight, but noticeable color registration problems.) The most effectively handled trick in the film was made with a fixed camera set in the orchestra and no movement or editing, as if Georges Méliès, the great illusionist of early French cinema, had briefly taken the reins. Everything else is faked with the usual cutaways, curtains & camera tricks. Perhaps the start of the Eisenhower Years, the Golden Age of Conformity, was the wrong time to go looking for the real Houdini. Then again, Houdini’s handful of silents are even more disappointing.

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