Monday, September 1, 2014

Houdini TV Mini-Series Part 1 - Recap and Review

Adrien Brody as Harry Houdini in History Channel TV Mini-Series Houdini

In the opening scene, Harry Houdini (Adrien Brody) jumps from a bridge into icy waters, while being bound in chains.

Harry (original name - Erik Weisz) has always been captivated by magic tricks and is particularly impressed with magician R. Houdini. He has the full support and encouragement of his mother, Cecilia (Eszter Ónodi). His father, Rabbi Mayer Samuel Weisz (Jeremy Wheeler) loses his job due to his lack of mastery over the English language.

Harry leaves Appleton, Wisconsin and becomes an apprentice to a magician. Harry continues to support his recently widowed mother through the earnings from displays of magic tricks. Soon he sets his eyes on a lovely young woman, Bess Rahner (Kristen Connolly). He courts and marries her.

Adrien Brody and Kristen Connolly as Harry Houdini and his wife Bess Houdini in History Channel TV Mini-Series Houdini

Houdini is ambitious and wants to go to the next level. He hires a Jim Collins (Evan Jones) to be his assistant. He performs his disappearing act from inside The Chinese Water torture cell.

With his rising fame comes recognition from the US Government. He joins the Secret service and is sent to Germany and Russia as a spy. His cover is that of a performing magician.

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Houdini performs the bullet catching trick and impresses the German Kaiser Wilhelm II (Gyula Mesterházy). He manages to ring the long defunct Kremlin Bell and grants a wish to the Russian Tsar Nicholas Romanov II (Simon Nader). Even a disbeliever like Rasputin (Iván Kamarás) has to grudgingly accept Houdini's powers.

Houdini's successes put a considerable strain on his marriage. His oath to secrecy prevents him from disclosing the truth about his espionage activities to Bess, who assumes that he is having affairs. His wife starts to make passes at strangers.

Adrien Brody as Harry Houdini performing death defying acts in History Channel TV Mini-Series Houdini

Houdini also starts experiencing a significant drop in the spectators for his magic performances. He faces considerable challenge from moving pictures and Charlie Chaplin. The enterprising Harry decides to bring the theater to the common man and starts giving his dare devil performances in the open.

The writing has been credited to Nicholas Meyer, author of Sherlock Holmes pastiches including the famous “The Seven-Per-Cent Solution”. This is undoubtedly the best aspect of the show.

Adrien Brody is miscast as Houdini, who was a consummate and charismatic showman. Adrien seems to be sleepwalking through the role, except from some rare moments when he gets to show some emotion. Someone like Hugh Jackman would have been a better choice. He was great in Chris Nolan's movie about magicians, Prestige.

There is no palpable chemistry between Houdini and his wife, as played by Brody and Connolly.

Adrien Brody as Harry Houdini and Evan Jones as his faithful assistant Jim Collins in History Channel TV Mini-Series Houdini

The best performances are given by Evan Jones and Eszter Ónodi as Houdini's assistant and mother respectively. Both of them manage to hold one's interest whenever they are onscreen. Evan is excellent as the idolizing and sincere Jim. Eszter exudes warmth and motherly love for her son. 

The way the episode has been shot is very modern and prevents one away from getting fully involved. 

The preview for the concluding part promises to showcase my all time favorite author, Arthur Conan Doyle. Houdini was dead set against spiritualism and as expected, crossed paths with ACD, one of the greatest supporters of Spiritualism in the early 20th century.

Click here to read my review of the concluding part of Houdini.

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Image Sources: Egon Endreyi, A&E Television Networks, Lionsgate Television, History Channel

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  1. How could I have missed this. It goods too good to pass up!

    1. I think you will enjoy this series, Kathleen.

      I am personally looking forward to ACD's appearance today.


  2. Good review. Kinda wished I had watched it now.
    Adrien Brody put me off and it sounds like that was a good call on my part.

    1. Thanks John.

      This is not a must watch show, unless you are a die hard fan of Houdini himself. And yes, you were right about Adrien Brody.