Houdini (1953)

Hollywood’s first attempt at a biography of famed magician and escape artist Harry Houdini may have been as much fiction as fact, but its subject was known to have embellished his biography on numerous occasions. At least they got some of the equipment right. Technical advisor Joseph Dunninger, a magician billed as “The Amazing Dunninger,” had been a friend of the escape artist. Decades earlier he had purchased some of Houdini’s equipment and allowed the studio to rent them for the film. For ’50s film fans, however, the real attraction was seeing recently married stars Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh in the first of five films they would make together. That more than justified the high fees Paramount had to pay to borrow them from their home studios, Universal and MGM, respectively. They prove the perfect romantic team for this fanciful story of Houdini’s rise from obscurity to become an international star, with Curtis re-creating some of his most famous escapes. The star studied with a magician for four months to master sleight of hand and basic escapes, some of which he performed on screen without doubling. He kept up his skills after filming, eventually winning a place in the Society of American Magicians.

(d. George Marshall, 106 m)

In attendance: Dorothy Dietrich, Dick Brookz