The Man from Beyond

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(2/10) In a nutshell: Harry Houdini is frozen in ice for a hundred years, and is too busy longing for love and escaping from danger to realise it is no longer 1820, but 1922. Houdini is charismatic, but the film derivative, and the escape acts don’t transfer well to the screen.

The Man from Beyond. 1922, USA. Director: Burton L. King. Written by: Harry Houdini, Coolidge Streeter. Starring: Harry Houdini, Nita Naldi. Produced by Harry Houdini for Houdini Picture Corporation. IMDb score: 5.6

Actually this picture is tilted 90 degrees to make it look dangerous. That's how badly Houdini's tricks work on film.

Actually this picture is tilted 90 degrees to make it look dangerous. That’s how badly Houdini’s tricks work on film.

Nearly every living human being knows the name Harry Houdini, the world’s most legendary escape artist. Less known is the fact that Houdini was also something of an action hero during the latter silent film era. In 1907 Houdini started to show films as part of his vaudeville show, and made a few short films with arbitrary plots to show off his escape acts. Once he had become America’s best paid vaudeville act and a successful businessman, he was offered to play the lead in the 20-part sci-fi serial The Master Mystery (1919, review here), which fuelled his passion for acting, and not long after he established the Houdini Picture Corporation, which produced five films, all starring Harry Houdini, and partially written by him. The films were largely unsuccessful, as the thrill of his live acts – which were the draw of the movies – didn’t translate successfully onto the screen. The problem with doing escape acts in fictional films is that in film anything is possible. If you can create a living robot, then escaping from a pair of handcuffs really shouldn’t be a problem.

Now, this doesn’t mean that the 1922 film The Man from Beyond – Houdini’s second and last foray into sci-fi, is wholly without interest. As far as I can tell, this film, which is his best remembered movie, is the first film that depicts the theory of cryogenics – that a human being can be frozen for an infinite amount of time and then awakened hundreds of years later without having aged a day. Continue reading

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The Master Mystery

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(4/10) In a nutshell: This 1919 serial starring Harry Houdini is fast-paced, action-packed and well filmed, and features the first robot in a lengthy feature. A thin, repetitive script and mediocre acting pulls the serial down.

The Master Mystery. 1919, USA. Directed by Burton L. King & Harry Grossman. Written by Arthur B. Reeve & Charles Logue. Starring Harry Houdini, Marguerite Marsh. Cinenatography: William Reisman. Produced by B.A. Rolfe for Rolfe Photoplays. IMDb score: 6.7

Q the Automaton was the first robot in a long production. The first robot of a feature film was presented two years later.

Q the Automaton was the first robot in a long production. The first robot of a feature film was presented two years later.

I generally don’t review serials or series, as it would be too much of a workload to go through all of he sci-fi series for reviewing. In very rare cases, though, I make exceptions. One such exception is the 1919 Harry Houdini serial The Master Mystery. Not because it would be exceptionally good or extremely important to the science fiction genre, but because of the simple fact that it is the first lengthy production featuring a robot (or an automaton, as it was called back then). Continue reading