Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Houdini TV Mini-Series Part 2 - Recap and Review

Adrien Brody as Harry Houdini in straitjacket performing a daredevil trick in History Channel TV Mini-Series

The episode begins with a quick recap of the first part.

Cut to the present. Brother Dash Houdini (Tom Benedict Knight) keeps teasing Harry (Adrien Brody) about the need to raise his game. Harry decides to do the straitjacket trick to make an impression on the people of San Fransisco.

Bess (Kristen Connolly) gets increasingly frustrated with Harry's increasingly hair-rising attempts to outdo himself and his extra-marital affairs. Harry promises to Bess that he will end both.

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Houdini performs arguably the most impressive trick in his arsenal - making a 10000 pound elephant “Jennie” disappear into thin air. Houdini also gets an offer to return to the espionage activities he carried out previously for the US and the UK.

During one of his performances at Empire theater in London, Houdini runs into Arthur Conan Doyle (ACD), the creator of the world's premier fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes.

Adrien Brody as Harry Houdini performing a magic trick in History Channel TV Mini-Series

ACD (David Calder) and his wife Lady Doyle (Linda Marlowe) are both impressed with Houdini's powers, which they mistakenly believe to be spiritual in nature.

In the midst of his tour, Houdini is informed that his mother, Cecilia Weisz (Eszter Ă“nodi) has passed away. Still haunted by her memories, Harry decides to get help from a spiritual medium to make contact with his beloved mother.

Harry figures out quickly the sham that spiritualism represents. Houdini sets his mind and heart to expose Spiritualism for the fraud that it perpetrates. He even offers 10000$ (initially and later 25000$) reward to any spiritualist medium who can prove him wrong.

Lady Doyle tries to convince Harry through her technique of Automatic Writing - Lady Doyle writes down the messages on a paper, as she receives them from the dead person being contacted. Initially overcome by emotion, Harry does believe in Lady Doyle's powers. But the astute Harry quickly figures out that the whole thing was a sham, by applying Sherlockian techniques of observation and deduction to the messages supposedly received by Lady Doyle from Harry's mother.

Lady Doyle wrote the message in the English language, whereas Houdini's mother did not speak a word of English. Further, Lady Doyle forgot to congratulate Houdini on his birthday (March 24)

Adrien Brody as Harry Houdini in chains about to do his disappearing act in History Channel TV Mini-Series

Harry next targets Mina Crandon (Megan Dodds) a.k.a. Margery the medium”, the most famous practitioner of Spiritualism. During the seance, Margery and her husband Dr Crandon (Luca Bercovici) try to discredit Houdini by questioning his credentials. Houdini keeps his cool and proceeds to prove they are fake as well.

To prevent Houdini from exposing her, Margery tries to seduce Houdini in his dressing room and almost succeeds. But Houdini resists her charms and prevails.

Houdini damages an ankle during a performance in the Chinese Water Torture Cell. While recuperating in his dressing room, he receives an ardent believer in Lady Doyle's spiritual powers. He inflicts severe damage to Houdini's appendix.

The injury is severe enough to cause Houdini to collapse during a performance. The doctor informs Bess and Jim that it is too late to save Houdini.

The episode ends as Bess tries to reach Houdini through a spiritual medium.

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

The performances and screenplay as a whole is far superior to the first part. Adrien Brody finally makes an impression and has better chemistry with Kristen Connolly's Bess.

Equally good were the scenes featuring ACD and his wife. I liked the first meeting between the Houdinis and the Doyles: When Houdini introduces ACD as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, ACD quickly replies that he would rather be known for his non-Sherlock Holmes related works.

Credit to Nicholas Meyer, author of the famous Sherlock Holmes pastiche “The Seven-Per-Cent Solution” for including this in the script.

Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes in real life

ACD did become overwrought after suffering personal losses (son Kingsley, brother Innes among others) during World War I and heavily relied on Spiritualism as a way to cope with his grief. After deducing that Lady Doyle did not actually receive any message from his dead mother, Houdini refers to the Doyles as really nice and sweet people but can be easily taken in. This was indeed true. Truly an irony that the man behind the world's foremost detective known for using logic to solve crimes, should be taken in so badly in the later stages of his life.

Houdini's death also puts the focus on a very important aspect of human life: Never put too much faith in anything. This could lead one to doing some truly tragic things like the way Lady Doyle's follower assaulted Houdini resulting in his death.

The real life Harry Houdini with his mother Cecilia Weisz and wife Bess Houdini

Houdini was very fond of his mother. He was her favorite and never really recovered from her death. This aspect of Houdini's life has been realized very well on the screen and full credits to Brody, Meyer and director Uli Edel.

Despite a shaky start, the mini-series made an excellent recovery. Must watch for fans of Houdini/Arthur Conan Doyle.  

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Image Sources: Egon Endreyi, A&E Television Networks, Lionsgate Television, Art and Architecture, History Channel, Wikipedia

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  1. Thanks for including a bit of history between Houdini and ACD!

    1. You are welcome, Kathleen.

      I had read about this special relationship between ACD and Houdini. It was a thrill to see it come alive on the screen.


  2. A small point of clarification. Conan Doyle certainly looked to Spiritualism to deal with his grief over the loss of his sons in WWI, but he had become deeply involved in Spiritualism by 1887, and very soon after that had reported his conviction that the basic claims of Spiritualism were true. To say that he "turned to Spiritualism" after WWI might not be precise, since he had not turned away from Spiritualism.