“Houdini” Miniseries “Part 1” aired on History on Monday, Sept. 1, 2014, at 9:00 p.m. It charted the beginnings of Houdini as a street magician, who eventually became a world renowned escape artist. It also delved on his role as a spy for the Americans and the British. Read on to learn what happened in the first part of the miniseries.
The story opened with Harry Houdini (Adrien Brody) doing one of his greatest stunts on a bridge. He’s wrapped in chains, with the intention of jumping on the icy lake down below, attempting to free himself. A large crowd gathered to watch the greatest illusionist. Will he make it?
The next scene cut to 17 years before and Houdini was with his wife Bess (Kristen Connolly), performing at a small party, where a cop challenged him to cuff himself to see if he can escape. Right before the crowd, Houdini performed this simple trick, although, as he said in the narration, it was not common trick among magicians at that time. He wowed the crowd when he successfully freed himself, and from there, he came known as an escape artist.
The story then took a trip back to his childhood, where a young Harry, still known as Erich, was with his brother, watching a magician perform on the street. This magician asked him to come on stage and participate, and from there, he was inspired to learn magic. He started performing on the streets, too. Whatever money he made from this, he gave it to his mother, who dotted on him. Houdini was a mama’s boy. In fact, in one of his shows overseas, he invited his mom over and literally treated her like a queen for a day.
Houdini followed the work of R. Houdin, also a magician, and read his book. His father was quite strict. As a devoted reverend, he didn’t believe in magic. Houdini escaped this life and moved to Brooklyn where he met his wife, Bess. By this time, he was already using the name Harry Houdini.
After a brief courtship, Harry and Bess married, and they later joined the traveling circus. But seeing as how many other magicians were doing similar tricks everywhere, including his own brother, Houdini sought to stand out and go big.
So he marched to the sheriff’s office and proposed that they lock him up, and he will try to escape. The sheriff agreed on the condition that should he fail, he will be jailed overnight for disturbing the peace. But alas, Houdini did escape, and the press got wind of this. He was all over the news afterwards, and this was how Houdini got free publicity.
— HISTORY (@HISTORY) September 2, 2014
His popularity with people grew and grew, and on one trip, he met Jim Collins (Evan Jones), who became his technical assistant of sorts. But Houdini realized that no matter how big he got, his next stunt was supposed to be bigger and better.
Jim and him were testing out his latest stunt, with Houdini tied upside down inside a tank filled with water. It wasn’t successful at first, but once they ironed out the kinks, they unveiled this on stage in front of a large audience. Minutes passed, and Houdini has yet to free himself from the tank. The crowd started getting rowdy, wondering what was wrong. Just then, someone with an ax came up the stage, ready to destroy the tank. But it turned out, this man was Houdini. He already escaped, and the delay was part of the act. The audience was thrilled by what they saw. Once again, Houdini gave them a spectacular show.
The Secret Service started looking into his profile and then later proposed to Houdini that he could work for them and the British against the Germans. Espionage. That was what he was going to do. But he could not tell his wife about this. The scene cut to Houdini as a child in the traveling circus where he’s taking magic lessons from Maxwell the Magnificent who told him, “Magicians are liars and the best liars are the best magicians.” This should serve him well now that he has become a spy.
His act become the cover story for his espionage in Berlin, where he was performing before German royalty, the Kaiser. He pulled another stunt — one that involved shooting at him so he would catch the bullet in his mouth. The Kaiser impressed that he invited Houdini to visit his cavalry. Whatever he saw there and whatever he heard, he fed the information to the Americans.
His next mission had him visiting Moscow, where he was to perform for the royal family — the Romanovs. Rasputin was there, and he thought Houdini was full of crap. But when he pulled a trick that everyone knew would be impossible to do, which was to let the inactive Kremlin bells ring, the Russians were convinced that Houdini had spiritual powers. Just like in Germany, whatever information he gathered from his trip was fed to the British and the Americans.
Then he was given a more challenging assignment — one that would have him retrieve documents from a German vault. Houdini managed to pull this off, but it came with some difficulty. He almost got caught and his act almost failed. After the show, Bess became furious at Houdini. What was he trying to prove? Houdini convinced her that this was all for them, for her. But Bess wasn’t moved. She implied that Houdini wanted all the attention. He still couldn’t tell her he was a spy.
At a party in London, his wife made him jealous for some reason, and Houdini could not take it. This was the start of him hitting rock bottom. He philandered and slept with prostitutes. His shows have lost its appeal with the audience; there was a rising star named Charlie Chaplin. Houdini could not believe it when one of his producers suggested that he perform in a smaller theater to recoup any losses. He was Harry Houdini, and he needed to be seen in a big venue!
Then at the close of this episode, the scene came back to Houdini on the bridge, handcuffed and tied with chains. He jumped on the icy lake and freed himself, but he still needed to get out of the cold water alive. Could he pull it off?
And that’s what happened to “Houdini” Miniseries “Part 1,” which aired on History on Monday, Sept. 1, 2014, at 9:00 p.m. Find out what will happen to Houdini in the lake in “Part 2,” which will air the following day. Check Movie News Guide (MNG) for the recap.
Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons/David Shankbone