This highly fanciful but immensely entertaining biopic stars Tony Curtis as legendary magician/escape-artist Harry Houdini. Janet Leigh, Mrs. Tony Curtis at the time, co-stars as Houdini's wife Bess, while Angela Clarke is seen as Houdini's mother. The film follows Houdini's progress from sideshow entertainer to high-priced prestidigitator, and also touches upon his fascination with the occult--and his efforts to expose phony mediums. Philip Yordan's script (based on a book by Harold Kellock) suggests that virtually every portentous occasion in Houdini's life occurred on Halloween day, including his death from peritonitis in 1926. The facts of Houdini's life seldom get in the way of Yordan's story; while general audiences won't spot too many discrepancies, professional magicians tend to howl with laughter at some of the film's intentional boners. Example: In real life, Houdini's appendix was fatally ruptured by a punch to the stomach; in the film, he injures himself by accidentally bumping into one of his props, the sword-studded "Temple of Benares" trick--which hadn't yet been invented in 1926! Still, it's fun to watch Tony Curtis wriggle his way out of some of Houdini's most baffling escape routines (both Curtis and Janet Leigh were carefully instructed on the set by professional magicians, who swore the stars to secrecy concerning the tricks of the trade). For a more accurate slant on Houdini's life, see the 1976 TV movie The Great Houdinis, starring Paul Michael Glaser and Sally Struthers.
by Hal Erickson synopsis