Death Defying Acts

March 13th, 2008


Death Defying Acts

No valid json found

Still of Guy Pearce and Catherine Zeta-Jones in Death Defying ActsStill of Guy Pearce and Catherine Zeta-Jones in Death Defying Acts

On a tour of Britain in 1926, Harry Houdini enters into a passionate affair with a psychic out to con the famous magician.

Release Year: 2007

Rating: 5.8/10 (5,101 voted)

Critic's Score: 48/100

Director: Gillian Armstrong

Stars: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Guy Pearce, Timothy Spall

During Harry Houdini's tour of Britain in 1926, the master escapologist enters into a passionate affair with a Scottish psychic. The psychic and her daughter attempt to con Houdini during a highly publicized séance to contact his mother whose death has haunted him for many years. However all does not go to plan...

Writers: Tony Grisoni, Brian Ward

Guy Pearce - Harry Houdini
Catherine Zeta-Jones - Mary McGarvie
Timothy Spall - Sugarman
Saoirse Ronan - Benji McGarvie
Malcolm Shields - Leith Romeo
Leni Harper - Leith Romeo's wife
Ralph Riach - Mr. Robertson
Olivia Darnley - Flower Stall Seller
Anthony O'Donnell - Oily Librarian
Billy McColl - McTavish
James Holmes - Ugly Mug
Melanie Harris - Rose (as Frankey Martyn)
Aileen O'Gorman - Effie - Elderly Seamstress
Raymond Griffiths - Music Hall Dwarf
Shaun Mason - Heckler

Taglines: Magic Is Inescapable

Release Date: 13 March 2008

Filming Locations: Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, England, UK

Box Office Details

Budget: $20,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend: $3,561 (USA) (13 July 2008) (2 Screens)

Gross: $3,561 (USA) (13 July 2008)

Technical Specs


Anachronisms: The opening scene reveals the partially built arches of the Sydney Harbour Bridge behind Houdini as he is lifted to the surface of the water. Houdini died in 1926. Construction of the arches did not commence until 1928.

User Review

A Nutshell Review: Death Defying Acts

Rating: 6/10

What had drawn me to watch Death Defying Acts, is that it's a story with Harry Houdini, arguably the greatest illusionist and escape artist of our time. A few days ago I was browsing through a book which revealed the secrets behind his brand of death defying acts, and really he's a man of science, engineering and most of all, a performer to bring to life the act of fooling an audience into believing his stunts. Sure there's an element of danger, but with proper risk assessment and safeguards, they strip away all the mystique that serves to confound.

But contrary to the title, there's nothing really death defying about the movie, as it treaded on safe ground and doesn't dwell any more on the illusions that it has to. In fact, you can count the number of stunts which involve Harry Houdini, and the filmmakers left that for another biographical movie that someone else should pick up on. What we have instead are glimpses into the man's personal life, and Guy Pearce provided quite an intense and charismatic Houdini with personal demons of his own to do battle with, though the story seemed to rein him in from dwelling too much on that aspect, and preferred to have a more romantic tale weaved in.

The romanticism of the movie is not with his illusions, but with a single parent who's a psychic of sorts, relying on her street smarts to get her own act going. Catherine Zeta-Jones plays Mary McGarvie, who has to rely on her wits to build credibility for her stage character. Together with daughter and sidekick Benji (played by Saoirse Ronan of Atonement fame), the mother and daughter team tries hard to make a living from their acts, but realize that they're by no means close to Houdini's widespread fame and fortune.

However, Houdini himself throws a gauntlet to all psychics far and wide, that whosoever can accurately reveal what his late mother had last said to him, will inherit US$10,000. His purpose it seems is to reveal that the majority of these soothsayers are tricksters in disguise, until of course he meets the luminous Mary, and affairs of the heart throws him off course. Naturally, Mary and Benji find themselves up against the best in the business, but when your back is against the wall, there's nothing much to lose it seems.

As mentioned earlier, this movie's more of a character study of the master magician, and explores things like his guilt because of dedication to his craft and performance, as well as his questionable motives in being attracted to the fictional Mary McGarvie. Narrated by the character of Benji, we see things through a child's eyes, and perhaps therein lies the loss of some pathos in the romantic angle of it. On one hand, it isn't your classic romantic story, while on the other, it doesn't seem to want to preach the method, rationale and mindset of Houdini himself.

So what emerged is a mixed bag. Beautifully shot, but again falling on the emptiness of its effort in trying to allow the audience to feel for the characters. At least Timothy Spall, who plays Mr Sugarman, Houdini's manager, allowed for some light moments as the guarded and wary person that he is. And credit goes to keeping the ending quite right too.


Comments are closed.