Tuesday, 13 June 2017

HALDANE OF THE SECRET SERVICE (1923) Directed by Harry Houdini.

Harry Houdini is one of those historical characters that really interests me. Magician, Escape Artist, Aviation pioneer, Author, Publisher, exposer of fake mediums and secret agent for both British and American governments. Sadly, although he also produced, directed and starred in several films his cinematograph work was not among his more noteworthy achievements. Fascinated as I am by his career, I jumped at the chance to buy three of his movies. The first, THE MAN FROM BEYOND starts well, looking like a sequel to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein  as artic explorers discover a man frozen in a block of ice on a wrecked ship. Unfortunately nothing that follows is as interesting and the print is quite dreadful. TERROR ISLAND is better, both in print quality (just) and story as Harry, a submarine inventor, travels to a distant island where an explorer has been captured by natives while searching for sunken treasure. It has something of the atmosphere of an old serial but that is about all. Lastly comes HALDANE OF THE SECRET SERVICE, directed by Houdini himself. After a good start involving switched bags the film settles down to be dull, dull, dull. The hero is on the track of a ruthless counterfeit gang led by a Fu Manchu type villain who was responsible for the death of his father. There is potential here but the film is determinedly talky (no mean feat in a silent film) as the characters endless explain things to each other. But, of course, there are pluses. Under any circumstances it is good to see Houdini on film and, surprisingly, the film contains a fair amount of location filming in Glasgow, Hull, London and Paris, presumably done while Houdini was on tour.
The oddest thing about these films is Houdini seems to have no great interest in exploiting his enviable reputation as an escape artist and there are few examples of what he did best in these films.. If you have any interest in Houdini then these DVDs are a must, whatever the quality. They are both disappointing and essential.

THE MAN FROM BEYOND (1919) directed by Burton King. *
TERROR ISLAND (1922) directed by James Cruze *
HALDANE OF THE SECRET SERVICE (1923) directed by Harry Houdini *

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