Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Up next: Harry Houdini silent film at historic Leavitt Theatre on Wednesday, Sept. 6

Harry Houdini gives a restrained performance in 'Haldane of the Secret Service' (1923).

It's a different kind of 'escape-ism.'

On Wednesday, Sept. 6, I'll do live music for 'Haldane of the Secret Service' (1923), a silent adventure thriller starring none other than legendary illusionist Harry Houdini.

Showtime is at 6 p.m. Lots more info in the press release below.

First, let me report on "opening night" of this season's silent film series at the Garden Cinemas of Greenfield, Mass., which took place on Monday, Sept. 4.

About 60 people turned out to catch Buster Keaton in 'Our Hospitality' (1923), which the theater screened to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its original release.

We didn't have a cake, but we did have a lot of first-time Keaton fans who responded warmly to Buster's comedy/drama set in the 1830s. 

The Garden Cinema's "First Monday Silent Film Series" runs through December. And there's no lack of promotion, especially in the theater, where seemingly every whiteboard or changeable sign has been commandeered in support.

That includes hand-written message boards outside the theater, too:

And it's nice to see Buster's title on the inside marquee for Screen #1:

Hope we get an equally healthy turnout for our next outing, which is the John Barrymore version of 'Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1920) on Monday, Oct. 2. 

For now, here's the press release for Harry Houdini in 'Haldane of the Secret Service' (1923), which I'm accompanying on Wednesday, Sept. 6 at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine. 

Hope to see you there!

*    *    *

Original promotional art for Harry Houdini in 'Haldane of the Secret Service' (1923).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Rare Houdini film 'Haldane of the the Secret Service' at Leavitt Theatre on Wednesday, Sept. 6

Legendary 'Handcuff King' escape artist returns to the big screen with live music in stunt-filled early silent adventure movie

OGUNQUIT, Maine—He reigned for decades as the legendary "Handcuff King," famous for daring and impossible escapes staged around the world.

But Harry Houdini also had a brief movie career, starring in a series of silent adventure films that showed off his athletic prowess and his talent for illusion, stunts, and escape.

See Houdini back on the big screen in 'Haldane of the Secret Service' (1923), one of his few surviving feature films.

The film will be shown on Wednesday, Sept. 6 at 6 p.m. at the historic Leavitt Theatre, 259 Main St., Route 1 in Ogunquit.

Admission is $12 per person. Doors open at 5 p.m.; the Leavitt's full dinner menu and bar service will be available during the program.

The rarely screened film will be shown with live musical accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based performer regarded as one of the nation's leading silent film musicians.

Houdini made only a handful of movies in the 1910s and 1920s, and much of his film work is lost.

But enough escaped oblivion to provide a glimpse of the world-renowned escape artist at the peak of his worldwide fame.

In 'Haldane of the Secret Service,' U.S. Government agent Heath Haldane is determined to bring to justice the mysterious Dr. Yu, all-powerful head of the Chinese underworld

Dr. Yu is suspected of international counterfeiting, narcotics smuggling, and the murder of Haldane's father.

Haldane soon encounters the beautiful Adele Ormsby, whose family might be connected to Yu's criminal activities.

The pursuit of justice then takes the story from New York to Scotland, London, and Paris.

Time and again, the bad guys trap Haldane in ropes, chains and strongboxes. Each time, our hero wriggles out of his predicaments with the skill of—well, Harry Houdini.

Our hero disguised, apparently, as Harold Lloyd—although without the glasses.

Although Houdini's films were well-received, he eventually abandoned his movie career, preferring to perform in front of live audiences.

Houdini, born Erik Weisz, was a Hungarian-born, American-Jewish illusionist and stunt performer noted for his sensational escape acts.

He first attracted notice in vaudeville in the U.S. and then as "Harry Handcuff Houdini" on a tour of Europe, where he challenged police forces to keep him locked up.

Soon he extended his repertoire to include chains, ropes slung from skyscrapers, straitjackets under water, and having to escape from and hold his breath inside a sealed milk can with water in it.

In 1904, thousands watched as he tried to escape from special handcuffs commissioned by London's Daily Mirror, keeping them in suspense for an hour.

Another stunt saw him buried alive and only just able to claw himself to the surface, emerging in a state of near-breakdown.

In 1913, Houdini introduced the Chinese Water Torture Cell, in which he was suspended upside-down in a locked glass-and-steel cabinet filled with water, holding his breath for more than three minutes. He would go on performing this escape for the rest of his life.

Houdini died prematurely in 1926, at age 52, of peritonitis following a burst appendix that may have been caused by blows received to the abdomen by a visitor backstage at a performance in Montreal.

Following his death, Houdini's reputation as a legendary performer continued to make his name a household world in the decades that followed.

Although not well known as a film actor, Houdini's work in motion pictures was not forgotten. In a posthumous ceremony on Oct. 31, 1975, Houdini was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7001 Hollywood Blvd.

This season's Leavitt Theatre silent film schedule features movies all celebrating their 100th anniversaries. Upcoming shows include:

• Wednesday, Sept. 20 at 6 p.m.: 'The Ten Commandments' (1923). Long before Charlton Heston played Moses in Technicolor, director Cecil B. DeMille filmed this silent blockbuster in black and white, and on a grand scale.

"These films are audience favorites, and people continue to be surprised at how engrossing and exhilarating they can be when shown as they were intended: in a theater, and with live music," said Rapsis, who accompanies more than 100 screenings each year at venues around the nation.

Rapsis improvises live scores for silent films using a digital synthesizer to recreate the texture of the full orchestra.

"It's kind of a high wire act," Rapsis said. "But for me, the energy of live performance is an essential part of the silent film experience."

Harry Houdini in 'Haldane of the Secret Service' (1923) will be shown with live music on Wednesday, Sept. 6 at the historic Leavitt Theatre, 259 Main St., Route 1 in Ogunquit.

Admission is $12 per person. Doors open at 5 p.m.; the Leavitt's full dinner menu and bar service will be available during the program.

For more info, call (207) 646-3123 or visit www.leavittheatre.com.

1 comment: