Released by: Olive Films
Released on: November 15th, 2016.
Director: George Marshall
Cast: Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh, Torin Thatcher, Sig Ruman, Angela Clarke
Year: 1953 Purchase From Amazon
Directed by George Marshall in 1953, Houdini stars a young Tony Curtis as the world's most famous magician, Harry Houdini. When the picture starts, Harry is working his way up the magician's ladder, paying his dues doing quick tricks at a sideshow. Here he meets a beautiful blonde woman in the audience named Bess (Janet Leigh) and before you know it, the two are husband and wife and are living in Harry's mother's place. From there we jump around to various points in Houdini's life, as we learn that he worked in a safe factory before getting into trouble for performing in Germany where he was brought up charges of toying with witchcraft - he clears his name by opening a safe for the judge.
As time passes, we're told that Houdini did develop an interest in the supernatural, an interest that would only grow as the years went on after his mother passed away and he started dabbling in Spiritualism. From there, we learn how he would become a world renowned escape artist and then, eventually we learn how he died - only the way he dies in this film is completely fictitious, as are many other elements of the story.
Not a film particularly concerned with accuracy, Houdini perpetuates a lot of the urban myths about its subject in place of trying to tell audiences what really happened. The best example is the ending, which we don't necessarily want to spoil for those with an interest in seeing the film, but there are other details which are glossed over or changed for dramatic effect. His court case in Germany being just one and the implication that on his wedding night he was more interested in sawing his bride in half than consummating anything being another.
The emphasis here is on Houdin's escapes, and so we rush quite quickly to get to that part of his life. When we arrive, spend a good bit of time there. The movie does get exciting whenever Curtis, who plays his character reasonably well, seems to be in danger of passing out or dying from lack of oxygen - these thrills are cheap, but they are thrills regardless. The romantic side of the story is there only because it seems to be a prerequisite in bio-pics. Janet Leigh is as beautiful as ever here and she's fine in the part but the script gives her very little to do. The same criticism applies to Curtis' role as well - he looks the part, he's good in the role in so much as he handles the material well - but the script doesn't really give him as much personality as we want. It times director George Marshall seems more than content to rush past the less sensationalist (although arguably more interesting) aspects of his life (such as his dabbling with Spiritualism and his obsession with his mother) and get straight to the straightjackets and safe cracking. The end result is that the movie, while entertaining enough, lacks much substance. If you look at it as a decent popcorn movie, light entertainment, you can certainly have a good time with the film.
Houdini arrives on a 25GB Blu-ray from Olive Films that probably came from the same source used for the Legend Films Blu-ray release from a few years back. However, this 1.33.1 fullframe AVC encoded 1080p presentation is not identical. The colors on Olive’s release look better and more natural and grain looks better here too, resulting in a slightly more film-like picture. The image is clean and shows reasonably good detail and nice texture. Black levels are pretty decent as well. All in all, this is a perfectly nice looking picture.
Where the older Legend Films release had only a lossy audio option, Olive present the film with a proper DTS-HD Mono track in the picture’s native English with optional subtitles provided in the same language. Clarity and balance are just fine and the fairly impressive score sounds good here. Dialogue stays clean and clear throughout playback, there are no issues here and the movie sounds just fine.
There are no extras on the disc, just menus and chapter selection.
The Final Word:
Houdini may not be the most factual bio-pic ever made but it is a pretty entertaining one. Curtis and Leigh are really good here and the movie turns out to be a nice mix of adventure, drama and magic! Olive’s Blu-ray might be bare bones but it looks and sounds quite nice. Definitely a fun watch.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!