Houdini: Unlocking the Mystery
directed by Michael Meadows
(New Wave, 2005)

The great Harry Houdini set the gold standard for magicians and escape artists, and all practitioners of the magical arts will forever be compared with him. A master showman, he was truly the 20th century's first international superstar.

Houdini: Unlocking the Mystery is both an informative look at the life and legacy of the man as well as a fitting tribute to his enduring legend. Hosted by acclaimed magician Lance Burton, this documentary features a number of interviews with cultural historians, popular magicians such as David Copperfield and the otherwise-silent half of Penn & Teller, experts in the history of magic, a great-nephew of Houdini and even one of the master showman's last young assistants. A wonderful collection of pictures and a goldmine of old film footage helps tell the story of how the young Hungarian immigrant Eric Weiss transformed himself into the greatest magician the world has ever known.

Interspersed throughout this documentary are video clips from the unprecedented auction of Houdini memorabilia that took place in 2004. A small number of wealthy collectors should consider themselves lucky indeed, for these magical heirlooms and the secrets some of them reveal were supposed to have been destroyed after the death of Houdini's fellow magician brother, for those were the great man's wishes. (After the death of Houdini's brother, Theodore Hardeen, the collection fell into the hands of Hardeen's assistant Sid Radner.) Of course, one can see how it would be difficult to destroy such priceless and historically significant artifacts. One thing is clear: I'll never own a piece of Houdini memorabilia, as we watch vintage posters sell for several thousands of dollars, while the true gems of the collection, such as handcuffs, straitjackets, the legendary Milkcan and the famous Chinese Water Torture Cell go for up to $300,000 dollars. No one can doubt the continued passion Houdini's fans hold for their long-deceased hero, especially the likes of Copperfield, who snagged some of the most significant memorabilia for his private collection.

The documentary does offer some insight into the secrets of Houdini's legendary abilities, but the focus really lies squarely on the man rather than his unprecedented accomplishments, such as his uncanny knack for showmanship, his marketing genius, his love for his mother and his wife Bess, his incredible drive to outdo his growing number of competitors and his zeal for exposing fraudulent spiritualist mediums in the years following the death of his mother. If you have even the slightest interest in the life and legend of Harry Houdini, you're going to want to see this documentary.

review by
Daniel Jolley

4 December 2010

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new