Lionsgate has been developing a Harry Houdini biopic for some time now, and it looks like it’s one step closer to escaping its chains. According to Variety, the studio wants Daniel Trachtenberg, who directed the excellent 10 Cloverfield Lane, to helm their Harry Houdini movie, replacing Dean Parisot (Red 2), who was connected with the project back in 2014. At one point Johnny Depp was in line for the title role, but that no longer seems to be the case.
Harry Houdini’s life is one of those “stranger than fiction” scenarios, and I can’t believe I’m advocating for this, but if there was ever a case to franchise a biopic, then this is the one to make it with. You could conceivably make two distinct Harry Houdini movies, one focusing on his youth and rise as the greatest escape artist and stage magician in history, and another about his later life as a debunker of spiritualists and phony magicians. There is, of course, no evidence that’s the approach being taken here, I’m just wishing out loud.
The script by Noah Oppenheim (Jackie) is reportedly based on controversial 2007 biography The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero by William Kalush and Larry Sloman, an otherwise excellent book about the master escape artist that made a number of new claims about his life (and death): notably that he put his unique talents to work as a spy. It’s a very good book, and the spy revelations would certainly make for some fun on the big screen, but Houdini’s life doesn’t need much embellishment. Kenneth Silverman’s out of print Houdini!!!: The Career of Erich Weiss is worth seeking out, and for my money remains the definitive book on the man.
There have been plenty of Houdini biopics in the past, but none have ever quite managed to hit the mark. The most recent attempt was a TV miniseries written by Nicholas Meyer and starring Adrien Brody…which sounds a lot better on paper than it turned out on the screen, unfortunately. Meyer was apparently unhappy with the final cut.
Note: don’t confuse The Secret Life of Houdini with The Secret Adventures of Houdini, which is a wonderfully fictionalized comic book account of how Houdini spent his later years fighting not only fake magicians but real supernatural menaces, Indiana Jones style.
I promise I’ll keep a watchful eye on this one.