Who knew Houdini was a movie star? I sure didn’t until Kino released a box set of his contributions to silent cinema. All I seemed to know about Houdini is of course that he was probably the most famous and influential magician in history, a little bit of details about his life and untimely death and that he believed in the after life. When I really think about it, I guess most of what I know I owe to Tony Curtis. Curtis of course played Houdini in the 1953 film named after the magic man himself. For the record, Tony had movie star looks, Harry Houdini does not.
I always find myself having a hard time being too subjective on silents because I look at them much differently than the talkies. Having said that, I certainly know when I see one I like or that I deem a masterpiece of movie making. Films like Abel Gance’s Napoleon or Lang’s Metropolis. For me silents are a window to the past. I can’t help but look at the props, the geography of the locations they film on or at. Sometimes I marvel at the crowd scenes and am awed by the undertaking of the productions from directors like DeMille. Watching a silent film is almost like being an archeologist or at least as close as I will ever get to being one. So in that regard I find them fascinating.
The plot line of this film fits in with the supposed interest Houdini had of the afterlife. Here is a man from the year 1820 who is found in ice and when thawed, comes back to life one hundred years later. He pines for his love and wouldn’t you know it, she has been reincarnated. The plot from here on out is what I would expect. Our villain is of course trying to ruin Houdini’s chances at claiming his lost love which allows our somewhat homely/pudgy hero to save the heroine from what appears to be Niagra Falls as opposed to the familiar railway tracks gag. All the while treating the viewers to some life threatening stunts.
I did enjoy the films opening scenes of a ship stranded in the ice of the Arctic. The set looks authentic and Houdini in the ice recalls Lugosi in the same situation in Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman. The use of tinted flashbacks are well done adding some class to this feature that according to the film’s credits was released by the Harry Houdini Picture Corp.
I am the first to admit that I don’t watch many silent films other than the accepted classics or the comedies of Keaton, Lloyd and the other guy but anytime I do, I have to say that I find them strangely compelling as I look into that window from the past.