Houdini (miniseries)

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Houdini 2014.jpg
GenreHistorical drama
Based onHoudini: A Mind in Chains: A Psychoanalytic Portrait by Bernard C. Meyer, M.D.
Written byNicholas Meyer
Directed byUli Edel
Theme music composerJohn Debney
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of episodes2 (list of episodes)
Producer(s)Gerald W. Abrams
Andras Hamori
Ildiko Kemeny
CinematographyKarl Walter Lindenlaub
Editor(s)Sabrina Plisco
David Beatty
Running time174 minutes
Production company(s)
Original networkHistory
Original releaseSeptember 1 –
September 2, 2014 (2014-09-02)
External links

Houdini is a two-part, four-hour History channel event miniseries written by Nicholas Meyer and directed by Uli Edel. It premiered on September 1, 2014. The series stars Adrien Brody as Harry Houdini and features the life of the legendary illusionist and escape artist from poverty to worldwide fame.


The miniseries follows the man behind the magic as he finds fame, engages in espionage, battles spiritualists and encounters the greatest names of the era. The drama will chronicle the life of a man who can defy death through his stunts, his visions and his mastery of illusion.




History first announced the development of a Houdini biopic miniseries with Adrien Brody attached to star on April 10, 2013.[1] The series was officially green-lit on August 19, 2013, with Kristen Connolly announced as Brody's co-star and Uli Edel as director.[2] The screenplay was to be penned by veteran author and filmmaker Nicholas Meyer, based on the 1976 book Houdini: A Mind in Chains: A Psychoanalytic Portrait by his father, Bernard C. Meyer.[3] Patrizia von Brandenstein and Karl Walter Lindenlaub were also announced as production designer and cinematographer, respectively.[2] On September 17, 2013, it was announced that actor Evan Jones had been added to the cast as Houdini's assistant Jim Collins.[4]


Filming on the miniseries began on September 30, 2013. It was shot entirely in Budapest, Hungary (coincidentally the real Harry Houdini's birthplace), which executive producer Gerald W. Abrams described as having "more turn-of-the-century architecture—that's the 19th century—than almost any city in Western culture."[5] Brody, who had studied magic as a child, performed many of the show's stunts himself, including the suspended strait jacket escape and the famous Chinese Water Torture Cell.[5][6]


The score to Houdini was written by the veteran film composer John Debney. A lifelong fan of Harry Houdini, Debney joined the project at the behest of a producer with whom he had previously collaborated on the A&E miniseries Bonnie & Clyde.[7] Rather than compose a period score for the series, Debney instead elected to write an "electronic/contemporary" score, with "instruments from the period that would give you the flavor of the times and give you the feeling of who this guy was."[7] A two volume soundtrack was released for digital download by Lakeshore Records on August 26, 2014[8] and later on CD September 23, 2014.


A trailer for Houdini was released online in early August 2014.[9]


No.TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal air dateUS viewers
1"Part 1"Uli EdelNicholas MeyerSeptember 1, 2014 (2014-09-01)3.70[10]
The humble beginnings of Harry Houdini as a young boy named Erich Weiss, who enlists his brother Dash to help him practice magic after seeing his very first magician in his hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin. He changes his name to "Harry Houdini" after his favorite magician Robert Houdin and starts out performing card tricks at sideshows in a traveling circus with his wife Bess as a "two-bit" act. His career soon takes off on the American vaudeville circuit as a master illusionist before achieving international fame as an escape artist, performing for the likes of royalty and celebrities. He becomes the world-famous master magician "The Great Houdini". But through his fame, Harry is recruited by MI5 to run espionage missions with William Melville to spy on the Kaiser in Berlin while balancing his death-defying acts in front of massive audiences.
2"Part 2"Uli EdelNicholas MeyerSeptember 2, 2014 (2014-09-02)2.66[11]
Harry Houdini must adapt to the constantly changing modern world as the industrial age comes to an end. As the invention of moving pictures threatens to steal Harry's spotlight in 1914, he has to come up with bigger and better escapes to get his audience back, and decides to bring the show to them. When his mother dies, Harry is determined to communicate with her through mediums and clairvoyants, however, they prove to be unsuccessful. He then dedicates his life exposing and debunking these fake spiritualists, including Arthur Conan Doyle's wife, Lady Doyle. In the final years of his life, Harry promises Bess no more death-dying feats and goes back to stage magic before succumbing to a succession of fatal blows to the abdomen from a disgruntled fan while backstage in his dressing room after performing his last act in Detroit.



Part 1 of the series was watched by 3.7 million viewers, averaging 1.2 million among adults 18–49 and 1.5 million in 25–54.[10] Despite debuting much lower than History's previous series' Hatfields & McCoys and Bonnie & Clyde, Houdini was nevertheless cable television's top miniseries debut of 2014 to date.[12]

Critical response[edit]

Houdini received a mixed response from critics. The series currently holds a 44% "Rotten" rating on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, with a consensus "Houdini's cast is talented, but given the decades of fascination surrounding its subject, the show is oddly lacking in intrigue."[13]

Allison Keene of The Hollywood Reporter praised Brody's Houdini as possessing "infectious zest" and commented that "... the miniseries nails the most important thing: spectacle. Edel's refreshingly dynamic direction and Brody’s buoyant performance allow Houdini's tricks to retain their wonder, even for the jaded modern viewer. That's a magical feat indeed."[3] Despite referring to some aspects of the series as "a bit heavy-handed," Mark Perigard of the Boston Herald gave Houdini a positive "B" rating and opined, "You’ll almost believe in magic—the magic of a miniseries to capture the tics and tricks of a complicated, driven man."[14]

Neil Genzlinger of The New York Times called Brody "a treat to watch," but criticized the screenplay and direction. He added, "A better version of this amazing life will surely be made in one genre or another, but this one's at least diverting."[15] Brian Lowry of Variety, however, spoke less favorably of the series, describing Brody's performance as being "ultimately overwhelmed" by Meyer's "misbegotten, heavy-handed, narrated-ad-nauseam script (...) and Uli Edel's equally obtrusive direction."[16]

Meyer addressed the voiceovers in a subsequent interview with StarTrek.com, stating "Well, they – you know, sort of re-cut the movie, and tore a lot of it out, and put in a lot of voiceovers and stuff that I just wasn't crazy about. And [it] wasn't our intention. It hadn't been written."[17]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Awards Category Recipient Outcome Ref.
2015 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie Adrien Brody Nominated [18]
Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special Houdini Nominated
Outstanding Cinematography for a Miniseries or Movie Nominated
Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Limited Series or Movie Nominated
Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Limited Series or Movie Nominated
Outstanding Makeup for a Limited Series or a Movie Nominated
Outstanding Sound Editing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special Won
SAG Awards Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie Adrien Brody Nominated
Art Directors Guild Awards Miniseries or Television Movie Houdini Nominated
Cinema Audio Society Awards Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing for Television - Movies and Mini-Series Nominated
Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing for Television Movie or Mini-Series Nominated
Costume Designers Guild Outstanding Made for Television Movie or Miniseries Nominated
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directing – Television Film Nominated
Motion Picture Sound Editors Best Sound Editing - Dialogue and ADR in Short Form Television Nominated
Best Sound Editing - Sound Effects and Foley in Long Form Television Nominated
Writers Guild of America Awards Long Form Adapted Nominated
Hollywood Makeup Artist and Hair Stylist Guild Awards Best Period and/or Character Makeup - Television Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television Nominated
Best Special Makeup Effects - Television Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television Nominated
Best Period and/or Character Hair Styling - Television Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television Nominated
Online Film & Television Association Award Best Cinematography in a Non-Series Nominated
Best Actor in a Motion Picture or Miniseries Adrien Brody Nominated

International broadcast[edit]

Houdini was first shown on Channel 4 in the UK in September 2014 and later released on Netflix UK on 7 March 2015.[19] Houdini premiered on the Seven Network on June 23, 2015.[20] It is available on Shomi in Canada. In Brazil Houdini aired on January 5, 2016 as a four-part series on Globo channel. It is available on Sony Liv in India.


  1. ^ Hibberd, James (April 10, 2013). "History developing Houdini miniseries starring Adrien Brody -- EXCLUSIVE". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved August 28, 2014.
  2. ^ a b Goldberg, Lesley (August 19, 2013). "'Houdini' Miniseries With Adrien Brody Gets Green Light at History". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved August 28, 2014.
  3. ^ a b Keene, Allison (August 25, 2014). "'Houdini': TV Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved August 28, 2014.
  4. ^ Ford, Rebecca (September 17, 2013). "'Houdini' Miniseries Adds Evan Jones (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved August 29, 2014.
  5. ^ a b Rorke, Robert (August 28, 2014). "Adrien Brody is a lock star in 'Houdini' miniseries". New York Post. Retrieved August 29, 2014.
  6. ^ Ryan, Patrick (August 27, 2014). "Adrien Brody's love of Houdini is no illusion". USA Today. Retrieved August 29, 2014.
  7. ^ a b Niles, Jon (September 2, 2014). "EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Oscar-Nominated Composer John Debney Talks Music For 'Houdini' Miniseries On History Channel - Scores For Film, TV & More!". Music Times. Retrieved September 16, 2014.
  8. ^ "Houdini Soundtrack Out Now on Lakeshore Records Score by John Debney". Film Music Daily. Lakeshore Records. August 26, 2014. Retrieved August 29, 2014.
  9. ^ Stedman, Alex (August 10, 2014). "Watch: 'Houdini' Miniseries Trailer Starring Adrien Brody". Variety. Retrieved August 29, 2014.
  10. ^ a b Kissell, Rick (September 2, 2014). "History's 'Houdini' Unlocks 3.7 Million Viewers on First Night". Variety. Retrieved September 2, 2014.
  11. ^ Bibel, Sara (September 4, 2014). "Tuesday Cable Ratings: '19 Kids and Counting' Wins Night, 'Rizzoli & Isles', 'Tosh.0', 'Bad Girls Club', 'Royal Pains' & More". TV by the Numbers. Archived from the original on September 4, 2014. Retrieved September 4, 2014.
  12. ^ Ng, Philiana (September 2, 2014). "Adrien Brody plays the great illusionist in the two-night event". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved September 2, 2014.
  13. ^ "Houdini (2014)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved September 16, 2014.
  14. ^ Perigard, Mark (August 29, 2014). "History's 'Houdini' has its share of magic moments". Boston Herald. Retrieved August 29, 2014.
  15. ^ Genzlinger, Neil (August 31, 2014). "Driven to Break Free From an Ordinary Life: 'Houdini,' With Adrien Brody, on the History Channel". The New York Times. Retrieved September 2, 2014.
  16. ^ Lowry, Brian (August 28, 2014). "TV Review: 'Houdini'". Variety. Retrieved August 28, 2014.
  17. ^ "EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Nicholas Meyer on DST3 and Beyond". StarTrek.com. September 25, 2014. Retrieved September 27, 2014.
  18. ^ https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3132738/awards?ref_=tt_awd
  19. ^ "The latest additions to Netflix UK". NewOnNetflix UK. 7 March 2015. Retrieved 7 March 2015.
  20. ^ Knox, David (16 June 2015). "Airdate: Houdini". TV Tonight. Retrieved 16 June 2015.

External links[edit]