Category Archives: harry houdini
Here we are with episode three of “The Cape,” and perhaps it’s time for a bit of credit where credit is due. The series was conceived by writer/producer Tom Wheeler and realized by action director Simon West among others. Either way, this is Tom’s baby, and quite an adventure. He’s built a continuity from the ground up, and inspired by the heroes of the pulps rather than anything contemporary, so far so good.
This episode in particular is notable, to me at least. It caught the attention of my mom-in-law, who liked it. She’s about as far from the comic book genre community target audience of this show as you can get, so extra points to Tom Wheeler and crew for nailing that elusive mainstream audience. Unlike “Heroes” before it, “The Cape” just might have a longer shelf life, especially if it continues like this.
I couldn’t wait for this episode because of the title. I remembered from the pilot that Kozmo was the name of the man who used the ‘magic’ cape before Vince Faraday. Come on, we all knew he’d come lurking back into the picture, for the first time, sooner or later.
It starts well, Gregor the Great, escapes from a Russian prison, establishing himself as a little bit Houdini, a little bit evil Mister Miracle, and we just know where he’s headed. Next comes the animated credit sequence, some of which seems to have been lifted from the online graphic novel, but it’s not, rather a montage of the actual The Cape comic book used in the show. When a bridge confrontation follows, right out of the beginning of Alec Baldwin’s The Shadow, I am once again hooked.
I am surprised when Gregor shows up and calls Max Malini Kozmo. It seems that Kozmo is a legacy, much like the Dread Pirate Roberts, and an identity that is passed down for decades. Max, after seeing what Gregor was capable of with the cape, decided to cut the legacy short. There is much made in this episode that the cape may really be magic, and that there may be more to this world than we thought.
Other highlights this time around include Orwell finally meeting the Carnival of Crime, which is interesting, especially seeing The Cape’s two worlds come together. There’s also the much un-subtle and too obvious reveal of who Orwell really is. I wish it had been done better.
Also on the side of not-done-well is the set-up for the duel of the cape between The Cape and Gregor. It is sudden and clichéd. I thought we were finally going to get to see the Carnival perform, and was looking forward to it too actually, and it becomes awkwardly a fight scene. There was definitely some clunky writing here, and I was disappointed. There’s still enough here to bring me back, hopefully this was just a fluke.
This is a bad week for Hollywood, we are losing all the good ones. Yesterday we lost director Arthur Penn, and this morning the news comes that also last night actor Tony Curtis passed away. His daughter Jamie Lee Curtis confirmed his passing from cardiac arrest after several medical maladies this past year. He was 85.
Tony Curtis starred in my favorite film of all time, The Great Race. It was a fave when I was a kid, and remains to this day. I watch it every time it airs from start to finish, nearly three hours. It’s got adventure, romance, music, history, satire and comedy. Throw in the fight between good and evil and race cars, and it just can’t be beat. And in the center of it all, as the dashing hero radiating charisma, is Tony Curtis. That’s the kind of guy he was, the epitome of the leading man, even when he was playing a parody of one.
Curtis was great in everything he was in. Whether he was in drag as in Some Like It Hot, getting an Oscar nod in The Defiant Ones, or being the best thing in the completely dreadful telemovie Tarzan in Manhattan, he was always marvelous. He was the undisputed star of so many movies, including Houdini, Operation Petticoat, Boeing Boeing and Spartacus.
Born Bernie Schwartz in Hells Kitchen, he came to Hollywood in the late 1940s and became an almost instant star. He was married to Janet Leigh and romantically linked to Marilyn Monroe. He also played regular roles on television on shows like “The Persuaders” and “Vega$,” and on this the fiftieth anniversary of “The Flintstones,” he might be remembered for his guest appearance as Stony Curtis. The last time I saw him on television was on “The Graham Norton Show” a year or so ago. He didn’t look well, but he still rocked the house with his stories of old Hollywood.
This is indeed a sad day. We have lost one of the legends of Hollywood.
Many folks know of Houdini’s career as a magician, illusionist, escape artist and debunker of spiritualists, but did you know he was also a movie star? Yep, in the 1920s, Houdini embarked upon a career as a silent action star.
While he had appeared in some of the earliest films ever made in France performing parts of his act, his first real foray into Hollywood was the 15-part movie serial The Master Mystery in 1919. The cliffhanger format of the serial suited Houdini’s skills to perfection as each episode ended with his character, the appropriately named secret agent Quentin Locke, in predicament after predicament that needed a ‘magical’ escape from.
Other films followed, including The Grim Game, notorious for its real life collision of two bi-planes 4000 feet in the air, and The Man from Beyond, about a man revived after a hundred years of being frozen in the Arctic. There was also Terror Island and Haldane of the Secret Service.
While none of these four were movie serials, they were rife with the cliffhanger formula allowing Houdini to do his thing. But that was part of the problem. On the screen audiences could not be sure whether the stunts were real or just Hollywood trickery. And the fact that Houdini was not the best dramatic actor around certainly didn’t help the situation. So while the films were quite successful, these factors helped him decide, along with the fact he could make more money live on stage, that Hollywood was not for him.
These films, being made back in the 1920s, in an ever-growing age where more and more movies are considered lost, are not intact for us to see, but what remains has been restored and put into a DVD collection called Houdini – The Movie Star.
As complete as possible, restored here are Haldane, Terror Island and Master Mystery. Also included are intensive notes, clips and information about the other films as well as much about Houdini’s life in Hollywood. You can see footage of the bi-planes from Grim Game, as well as actual escapes from his act. This is an excellent collection for any fans of Houdini or film in general. Recommended.