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Saturday Cimema ~ Several Cinematic Houdinis



Earlier this week, a fellow Hugh Jackman fan linked to the following: Houdini Musical, Starring Hugh Jackman, May Have Chicago Premiere Prior to Broadway. My first thought was, “Dude, isn’t he a little tall to be Houdini?”

According to IMDB*, Harry Houdini was 5’6″. Wikipedia quotes 5’5″ and notes that his shortness was often remarked upon. Hugh Jackman is 6’2″. I’m guessing the milk can escape isn’t going to be in the musical. (Of course, this wouldn’t be the first time Jackman’s been called upon to “play short.” According to the Marvel Wiki, Wolverine is 5’3″.)

File:Deathdefyingacts-poster.jpgI had recently watched Death Defying Acts and thought that Guy Pearce was too tall too, and too eloquent, so I started to wonder just how Hollywood has treated Houdini. After tracking down a few bio-pics and “guest shots,” I noticed a few things in common and a few things that often seem to be missing–mainly Houdini’s interaction with magic community. He worked to organize magicians and also habitually seemed to piss them off. These are things overlooked and would probably require a series rather than a movie. Even if he is my 20th favorite magician, I’d watch a Mr. Slefridge-style series. And might I suggest some height appropriate actors? Daniel Radcliffe or Frankie Muniz are both 5’5″, but my pick would be a hair-dyed Seth Green (5’3″).

(While looking up information for this post, I find that Wild About Harry reports that the History channel has green-lit a two night series starring Adrien Brody, 6’1″.)

* I’m cribbing all my height information from IMDB.

What I’ve Seen:

Houdini (1953)
Tony Curtis – 5’9″

  • File:Houdini.jpgWhat it’s got: Screwball romantic comedy, Houdini as the Wild Man and sawing Bess in half on their wedding night, Houdini working at a safe factory, lots of random magic, Bess threatening to leave over his relationship with magic, use of lockpick with toes, mysterious absent mentor Von Schweger and Otto the assistant, mention of Missouri (the Show Me state), a Halloween curse, not very dramatic debunking of a seance.
  • What it’s missing: Theo, Houdini interacting with other magicians, Houdini being punched in the gut.

The Great Houdini (1976)
Paul Michael Glaser – 5’11”

  • What it’s got: Houdini with a New York accent and struggling to become famous (suggested alternative job: working in a tie factory), Houdini and Bess working on their mind-reading act in bed, Bess leaving over Houdini’s relationship with his mother,  the religious inclinations of Harry (Jewish) and Bess (Catholic), mention of Missouri, dramatic debunking of a seance, Halloween spookiness, Vivian Vance stealing every scene.
  • What it’s missing: Theo, Houdini interacting with other magicians, the love interest being called a shiksa.

Voyagers! “Agents of Satan” (1982)
Michael Durrell – shorter than everyone else except the kid

  • What it’s got: Escape via time travel! Dramatic debunking of “mentalist.”
  • What it’s missing: N/A – Houdini is a secondary character in a one hour TV drama.

Via Wild About HarryFairyTale: A True Story (1997)
Harvey Keitel – 5’7″

  • What it’s got: The best Houdini hair, nice depictions of magic including Houdini post-water chamber escape waiting behind the curtain to build suspense.
  • What it’s missing: N/A – Houdini is a secondary character and is fairly compromising on the subject of fairies. He advises the young Miss Wright to never reveal her secrets.

Death Defying Acts (2007)
Guy Pearce – 5’10”

  • What it’s got: A buff, fit, perpetually injured, haunted Houdini at the height of his career, a put-upon manager, a story from a medium’s perspective, a little girl who reads comics, an incredibly lush movie that covers a very small period of time.
  • What it’s missing: Bess, the needle trick, mention of Missouri.

Notable, but I Haven’t Seen:

Jeffrey DeMunn  (5’9″) played Houdini twice in 1981’s Ragtime and as adult Houdini in Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color‘s “Young Harry Houdini” (1987).

Houdini (1998) (TV) Played by Johnathon Schaech – 5’11”


Writer, publisher. Hobbies include reading, studying magic & illusions from a historical/theoretical perspective, and playing ultimate frisbee.

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