Conjuring and Cinema: two of my deepest passions. Whether it’s the classics or something brand-new, I love watching both of these art forms. But to see a movie with magic in it – well, sometimes they get it right, and sometimes they don’t. Let’s go through a few examples of magic flicks, both hits and misses:
HOUDINI (1953): Arrgh! Here’s the granddaddy of misleading biographies, and worse yet it deals with arguably the most famous magician of all time. Inaccuracies abound, but the biggest crime is the ending.
(SPOILER ALERT: I am going to discuss the end of the movie. Please stop reading if you don’t want to know.) So Houdini (Tony Curtis) is submerged upside-down in a glass tank full of water, straining mightily to escape – but things go bad, and they finally break the glass and pull him out. But it’s too late, and he dies backstage, telling his wife (Janet Leigh) that if there’s any way, he’ll come back.
Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, stars of HOUDINI.
NOOOOOOOO! Many people inferred after watching this flick that Houdini actually died like that, from an escape gone wrong. I know this because pretty much my whole life I’ve had countless people come up to me and say, “Wow, it’s too bad Houdini died in one of his tricks.” It pains me to hear this warping of his legacy. (END OF SPOILER.)
For the real story of Houdini’s death, check out my October 2015 newsletter.
THE MAD MAGICIAN (1954): Surprisingly, I’m not going to give this the thumbs down. Even though the story is about a magician who uses his illusions to kill people(!), it’s all strangely entertaining in a bizarre, fun way. You know it’s over-the-top and not real, so you just sit back and enjoy it. You also get Vincent Price as the crazed conjuror, and it’s in 3-D too!
The incomparable Vincent Price.
THE PRESTIGE (2006): It’s hard to fault this complex, well-thought-out story about rival magicians in the 19th century, with intense performances and accurate production design. Still, there are two bits that are presented as “facts” that are challenging:
–A key plot point features a vanishing birdcage that kills the bird inside! After this movie many, many people asked me if this is true. Animal Lovers of the World, you can relax! Magicians love and treasure their co-stars, and treat all animals with care and respect. In my entire career, I have never seen a birdcage prop that harmed or killed birds.
Don’t worry… he’s alive!
–Michael Caine performs a moving (and meaningful) monologue about the three acts of a magic trick: the Pledge, the Turn, and the Prestige. It’s beautifully written and convincingly performed. Only one problem: THERE ARE NO ‘THREE ACTS OF A MAGIC TRICK’! But he delivers it so convincingly! I’ve had many people come up to me after a show and say with an in-the-know-look: “So Mark, what is your ‘Prestige’?” I just wink and nod mysteriously…
One of the best – Michael Caine
THE ILLUSIONIST (2006): Now here is a film that really hits a home run, in my opinion. Besides being pretty accurate to the period and to magic performance of that time, most importantly it captures the feel of creating illusion and actually performing magic for an audience. Besides the part where butterflies carry in a vanished handkerchief(!), it’s easy to get caught up in the romance and drama of this film.
How about you? I’d love to hear about magic-themed films you love – or can’t stand – and why. And don’t forget to catch some live magic sometime… because nothing beats seeing the impossible right in front of your own eyes.