Looking for a little escapism: The History Channel brings us the two-part mini series “Houdini.”
Harry Houdini, born Eric Weiss in Budapest, Hungary, was one the most famous men in the world during the turn of the 20th century. He built his fame on becoming an illusionist and a stunt performer, which was spurred on during his youth after reading a book by Frenchman Robert Houdin: a famed magician and considered “the father of conjuring.”
Houdini (Adrian Brody – an Oscar winner for The Pianist), takes up residence with his rabbi father and his mother in Appleton, Wisconsin, where he decides to become an escape artist after reading the Houdin book. We fast forward to turn of the century Europe where a war in brewing, but also where Houdini is turning heads as “Harry the Handcuff” Houdini. Crowds of people are mesmerized by stunts which include escaping handcuffed prison cells, and another trick, which has him buried alive, and then emerging to the surface in the neck of time. Houdini is helped by his brother Dash (Tom Benedict Knight), his wife Bess (Kristen Connally), and his assistant Jim Collins (Evan Jones). While Houdini thrilled audiences with his illusionist acts, he became an ardent debunker of those who preyed on people as mediums and spiritualists.
The series jumps back and forth in time chronicling Houdini’s career, and Adrian Brody does a great job portraying the enigmatic performer, but the action at times is a bit hoakey. An interesting early scene has Houdini signed up as an MI-5 British spy before the war, but the follow-up is weak. Was Houdini an actual spy? A great deal of time is spent on Houdini revealing his tricks and also going after fraudulent mystics, but most of scenes are open ended with no closure. In the end, however, “Houdini,” is an intriguing mini-series which offers viewers respite from the doldrums of summer television.
My Rating: 3 of 5 Escapes.
Reviewer’s Notes: Believe it or not, I was once offered a job in Appleton, Wisconsin. After driving up to Appleton from Chicago in February, and then getting snowed in for three days, I promised my wife I would never go there again.