Category Archives: master mystery

The Films of Harry Houdini


What better time to talk about master magician Harry Houdini than Halloween? It’s actually eighty-two years ago to the day when he died.

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.