The Man From Beyond (1922)

The_Man_From_Beyond_(1922)‘I guess you haven’t seen much of the gay side of life lately. Would you like to look around a bit tonight?’

The last two survivors of an ill-fated polar expedition stumble across the wreck of an old ship and a man frozen solid in a block of ice. They thaw him out and he comes back to life. The trio return to civilisation but complications ensue involving a beautiful bride, re-incarnation and an inheritance.

Harry Houdini’s last attempt to become a film star. The world famous escapologist must have seemed a sure box office draw, but his previous pictures had not been particularly successful. Houdini himself had found the filmmaking process rather dull, and the lack of financial returns on his previous projects was disappointing. Still, Houdini was prepared to put up the cash for one last try, and this time to include a subject close to his heart: spiritualism.

Houdini is ship’s mate Howard Hillary, who falls in love with heroine Jane Connelly on a sea voyage. Of course, she’s high born, and her father doesn’t approve of Harry, but any chance of resolving the situation is lost when the ship is wrecked. Fast forward a century and he’s melted out of his ice cube by being placed close to a fire and wrapped in an old blanket! Who knew cryogenics could be so simple? Back in high society, they walk in on a posh wedding and guess what? The bride is the reincarnation of Harry’s lost love (again played by Connelly of course). He thinks it really is her, because he still hasn’t worked out that a hundred years have passed (despite motor cars and some other subtle clues). Anyway, Connelly’s intended turns out to be a bit of a rotter (who knew?) and the stage is set for some fairly typical plot development and familiar silent melodrama.

The_Man_From_Beyond_(1922)

Vanilla Ice’s latest comeback wasn’t working out…

This is a very serious film, with serious intentions. Houdini only performs one escape (from a straightjacket in an asylum) and the rest of time simply plays it as a conventional actor, and he gives a performance which doesn’t resort to the usual histrionics that were the fashion of the time. But there are one too many flashbacks in the convoluted storyline, and the spiritualism angle is shoe-horned in rather clumsily late on, along with a reference to the writings of Arthur Conan Doyle. Once you get past the off-beat initial premise, there is nothing to mark this out from many other similar melodramas of the time.

Houdini obviously took spiritualism very seriously and spent much of his later life debunking fake mediums and the like. Obviously, it was not difficult, given his stage craft and conjuring expertise. But it must have been disappointing for him. And disappointing is a word that could equally be applied to his last cinematic outing.

The film was not a success. Houdini quit the film business. The world moved on.

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