Tuesday, May 27, 2008

DVD: Houdini the Movie Star #1 -- May 27, 2008

While I was home sick, I took advantage of the opportunity to watch the first film on Kino's set Houdini the Movie Star. I have wanted to see The Master Mystery, a serial, for many years. I probably first read about it in a biography of Harry Houdini. At some point I realized that I didn't have the manual dexterity for sleight of hand, so I became interested in escapology. That led me to read everything I could find about Houdini. Since I was also interested in silent movies, I paid attention to the many references to his film career.
I thought The Master Mystery sounded particularly interesting because of the robot which it featured. The movie was made in 1919, before Čapek coined the term robot. It was called Q, the Automaton. Its gang was called the Emissaries of the Automaton. Great name.
The plot makes no more sense than that of any other movie serial. It may have been a little harder to follow because about one hour of the footage is missing. A few observations:
-- I like the image. The automation looks like a Muppet automaton. My daughter thought the acutal robot was cheesy looking. I liked the way he walked, especially the way he moved his arms. If the movie had been release in the 1980s, someone would have created a dance called "The Automaton".
-- In two different episodes, the people with Houdini used him as a battering ram to break down a door. I've never seen that done outside of a cartoon. They did not use his head.
-- The subtitles used a wonderful font. Whenever a lowercase "g" appeared on the bottom line, it had a huge, curling tail.
-- The images on some of the art titles were funny. I liked the view of the cave with eyes looking out from the dark.
-- One of the titles which explains a missing part of the movie says that Houdini used his "escapist" skills to get out of a trap. Wrong word, I think.
-- The tinting was appropriate.
-- The books always said Houdini was stiff. I think he was restrained, but not stiff. Some of the actors were considerably less restrained, especially Doctor Q.
-- It was unusual to see a serial where no cliffhanger involved an automobile or an airplane. The cliffhangers focused on Houdini getting restrained (ropes, chains, barbed wire, a strangling machine) and getting loose.
-- I don't think I have ever seen another fiction movie that mentioned Madagascar so many times.

Sydney Pollack died. I enjoyed Three Days of the Condor. I was surprised to discover that I haven't seen very many of his other movies.

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