The Master Mystery
“The graveyard of genius”, International Patents, Inc. “A terrible engine of destruction,” the mechanical man with a human brain, “Q”, it puts out all the lights with a fist to the fuse box, and breaks into the girl’s room as she retreats ahead of Broken Blossoms (dir. D.W. Griffith)
“Believe it or not, I have been in Madagascar and I know!” The other arm of the Corporation’s wrath is a laughing gas that induces “the Madagascar madness” by means of burning candles, therewith the girl’s conscience-stricken father, head of the firm, is rendered a mental case, and whilst attempting to rescue him a government agent is unlawfully placed in a lunatic restraint.
Houdini as Locke, Department of Justice, working undercover, handily taking apart an umbrella for a picklock to save the day... arrested on a false charge, he is handcuffed, with prestidigitator’s hands he frees himself to read a letter fallen to the floor and in a trice is handcuffed again, unnoticed. “Were you in Madagascar recently?”
“Certainly, I cruised through Mozambique Channel and touched at Madagascar last summer.”
“Episode Two, The Iron Terror”.
Edgar Allan Poe, another great authority on bunkum, is practically cited on the subject of automata. A masterwork aptly named. Strung up by his wrists, Locke throttles a thug with his legs, fetches out the keys from the fellow’s coat pocket with his feet and uses them to open a facing door with his toes, placing his legs across the top edge he unknots one rope with his teeth and is quickly free, all for the camera’s benefit in a fine medium shot (the underwater escape is not well seen in Kino’s incomplete restoration “by special arrangement with the George Eastman House”, a number of magnificent scenes are missing but described in titles).
The bold construction advances a phony rival for the girl’s voting interest in the company, a supposed by-blow of her father’s brought up by “Old Meg—A Teller of Tales”. Several very nasty close escapes are interrupted by the end of an episode. The source is Shakespeare (The Tempest or Pericles, Prince of Tyre).
“In my country his magic is supreme.” The Great Torture in a temple of the Chinese underworld. Hans J. Wollstein (All Movie Guide) believes Houdini “escaped his many perils too easily,” he did not. Describing an escape filmed in the asylum sequence of The Man From Beyond, Houdini wrote, “several times I have had barely enough strength to walk off the stage after it was over.”
The Man From Beyond
“Then came the crushing realisation that while time had stood still for him, it had swept away everyone near and dear—that the girl before him was a total stranger.”
Failure of an Arctic expedition, discovery of the title character (Harry Houdini) immured a century.
And there is the girl, about to be married, and her absconded father. “An instinct, too subtle to explain, tells me that we are not strangers. Don’t you feel that too, Felice?” And so by degrees to Robbe-Grillet’s L’Année Dernière à Marienbad (dir. Alain Resnais). Ken Russell certainly recalls the first sight of the icebound face “frozen in a snarl of hate” and the escape from a New York insane asylum in Altered States.
Jane Connelly the girl, a charge of murder, Nita Naldi a conspirator. The point of it all is precisely recalled by Hitchcock in Family Plot, secret kidnapping cell, forced injection averted, and of course the fight above a national monument provides the meaning, the canoe goes over the falls...
In this sense, Bride of Frankenstein (dir. James Whale) is a most astute commentary.
It ends according to Doyle, one of the great works of the cinema, remembered en route in Pichel & Holden’s She.
To say it was lost on the New York Times is to say it was reviewed there, “Mr. Houdini's imagination seems to have run out at the inception of his idea... Mr. Houdini also appears in person to perform in his usual manner. He causes a girl and an elephant to disappear and gets out of a straitjacket. He also appears to swallow four packages of needles, several yards of thread and a drink of water, after which the thread is pulled out of his mouth with the needles strung on it. This trick is mystifying.”