DVD REVIEW: HOUDINI (1998)

This Warner Archive release is a Manufacture-On-Demand (MOD) DVD. It is made to be played in “play only” DVD devices, and may not play in some DVD recorders or PC drives. This DVD, however, played with no problems in the Toshiba DVD recorder used for this review. This title is available directly from WBShop.com by clicking here.

 

THE SET-UP

Ten years after his death, the family of Harry Houdini (Johnathon Schaech) reunite to recount the events of his life. Also stars Stacy Edwards, Mark Ruffalo, Paul Sorvino, Rhea Perlman, and George Segal.

Written and directed by Pen Densham.

 

THE DELIVERY

Many are familiar with the 1953 film about Harry Houdini’s life, starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, but few are aware of the 1998 version made for TNT cable, starring Johnathon Schaech (That Thing You Do!). While both films are a bit fictionalized on the details of Houdini’s life, the 1998 TNT version may well be the superior watching experience, thanks to a superb performance by Schaech.

 

 

Writer/director Pen Densham crafts a film that looks and feels like a big-screen period piece instead of a made-for-cable movie. The production values, set decoration, and cinematography all set the right atmosphere, and Densham’s deft directorial hand unfolds the story deliberately and allows the actors to carry the film.

 

The story is told mostly in flashback, as wife Bess Houdini (Stacy Edwards) attends a seance on the anniversary of her husband’ death, hoping to connect with him. We then see Houdini’s humble beginnings and early career struggles alongside his brother Theo (Mark Ruffalo, in one of his early roles). You should even keep an eye out for a very young Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild, Speed Racer) who has a small role as a young Houdini. Paul Sorvino, David Warner, Ron Perlman, and George Segal also star in supporting roles, but the film truly belongs to Schaech. He creates a compelling figure in his portrayal of the tortured magician; it is a fantastic performance.

 

The end falls apart a bit; in an effort to give some sort of positive emotional resolution, Densham resorts to a cheesy gimmick. I can understand the need to reach for a happy ending; after all, Houdini is dead and his wife is still looking for some closure. Still, I hoped for a better ending.

 

Houdini may have overdramatized parts of the man’s life, but the film overall is extremely well done, and very entertaining. I’ve been a fan of Johnathan Schaech ever since That Thing You Do!, and in Houdini, he proves himself again to be a gifted, underrated actor. This film, and his performance, is well worth your time.

 

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VIDEO AND AUDIO

The video image on the standard DVD is solid, but not perfect. It shows some minor film grain, and doesn’t seem as sharp as it should. The audio is a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, which sounds good, but doesn’t have much of a full, surround effect.

 

SPECIAL FEATURES

A television promotional spot is included.

 

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THE BOTTOM LINE: BUY IT OR REDBOX IT?

Ratings (1-10 scale)

Movie: 7

Video: 7

Audio: 6

Extras: 3

Overall Score: 5.75

 

Houdini is an entertaining film made even better by a fantastic performance by Johnathon Schaech. It is well worth a watch.

 

DVD SPECS

Release Date: June 17, 2013

Rating: Not rated

Running time: 94 minutes

Aspect ratio: 1.37:1

Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0

Subtitles: None

Special features: Television commercial

Label: Warner Archive

 

Click here to order Houdini on DVD from Warner Archive’s WBShop.com!