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Eight-thousand, 600 and forty-three locks

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Persevering with my scene by scene dissection of Paramount's basic 1953 biopic Houdini. Final time we joined Harry and Bess on the highway. Right now we discover them again at dwelling.

Chapter 7: Eight-thousand, 600

and forty-three locks

The next collection of scenes in Houdini (1953) are largely setups for the extra main scenes to come back. However in these scenes are many echos of actual Houdini historical past and do nicely for instance my level that, whereas this movie fictionalizes for leisure functions, it nonetheless builds these fictions atop a basis of basic information.

We open with Harry, having given into Bess's plea to surrender on present enterprise, working the meeting line of a lock manufacturing unit. This pulls from just a few items of actual Houdini historical past. Houdini all the time claimed he apprenticed to a locksmith when he was a boy, and it was there he acquired his skilled information of locks. And as a teen, Houdini labored an meeting line as a necktie cutter. So right here we see these concepts have been properly mixed. It is also stated Houdini's brother-in-law, William Bartholmes, provided to get him a job on the Yale lock manufacturing unit. I've solely ever seen this talked about in Kellock, the e-book on which this film relies, so it is doubtless that is what sparked the concept of a lock manufacturing unit right here.

In fact, the all the time bold Houdini needs to maneuver up the ladder and work on the “large safes” just like the surly Mr. Hunter (Frank Orth). He additionally nonetheless has escape on his thoughts, and asks Hunter if he might sooner or later attempt to free himself from certainly one of his safes “by working the tumblers from the within.” For this he solely will get chastised and despatched again to his bench. All that is incredible stuff. Up till now the film has solely proven us a rope escape. However now Harry is in a world of locks and already seeing their dramatic prospects. His encounter with Mr. Hunter additionally reveals his predilections to make and tackle challenges.

Houdini returns dwelling (his moms dwelling) the place Bess is fortunately ensconced in home life. The image right here feels slightly extra like Nineteen Fifties domesticity, however it's Bess's excellent.

Bess: How'd it go at this time?

Harry: Simply nice. I opened eight-thousand, 600 and forty-two locks.

Bess: Nicely no less than we're not dodging tomatoes and also you receives a commission each Saturday evening.

That is additionally rooted actually. Following their second stint with the Welsh Bros. Circus in 1898, the Houdinis returned to New York and the Weiss household dwelling and seem to have, quickly, given up present enterprise. Houdini tried to promote his act and open a faculty of magic. I've all the time puzzled if he may need picked up just a few shifts on the previous tie manufacturing unit? He was nonetheless within the union. So a hiatus simply earlier than the swell of success is true in sync with the actual Houdini story.

Bess notices that Harry is “two {dollars} quick” in his paycheck. She requested if he “stopped off wherever.” I feel audiences at the moment, and perhaps nonetheless now, would take this to imply stopping off at a bar. However that is Harry Houdini. He pulls out a pair of handcuffs that he bought (Hamburg 8s). To show they're “good ones”, he has Bess lock them on his wrists. He then makes an immediate escape. 

“That makes eight-thousand, 600 and forty-three locks that I've opened at this time,” he quips.

It is a magnificent second that does a lot for the characters and the narrative. We see Houdini simply cannot cease being a performer and might't cease dreaming up new escapes. This additionally offers a handcuff escape a pleasant second within the film and reveals them, appropriately, as a part of Houdini's evolution. We might additionally give this a deeper learn. Harry has been “handcuffed” to a home life by Bess. However he is found out the best way to escape. He's actually a person who can't be held.

Bess is clearly threatened by this and does not share Houdini's pleasure within the escape. As a substitute she brings him again to home life and tells him to clean up for dinner. However Houdini deflects by saying he is taking her out to dinner. Bess is predictably thrilled, and much more so when mama, at her stitching desk, tells her she has her costume all completed. Once more, I can not assist however acknowledge an echo of Houdini historical past right here. A key ingredient within the mythic story of how Harry and Bess met is mama making Bess a brand new costume.

We finish with Harry and Bess arriving on the Resort Astor. Bess wonders if they'll afford such a spot. Harry gallantly says, “Nothing however one of the best for you my expensive”, and he ushers her inside. However we see he has used misdirection to hide a revealing signal on the lodge door…

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