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Can Joe Wright help 'Houdini' escape into the world?

October 12, 2012|By Steven Zeitchik
  • Harry Houdini
Harry Houdini

EXCLUSIVE: A modern Harry Houdini movie has long been a tantalizing possibility for film fans: the elaborate escapes, the trans-Pacific aviation, that (possibly) punching-related death. The last major film about the Euro-born magician came out more than a half-century ago, and it wasn’t exactly faithful to his life.

But there’s new momentum on one of the projects around town about the colorful escape artist. “Houdini,” a movie that Lionsgate's Summit is developing based on a biography called “The Secret Life of Houdini,” has attracted the interest of Golden Globe nominee Joe Wright. The director is in discussions with the studio about helming the movie, according to a person who’s been briefed about the project but not authorized to talk about it publicly. Lionsgate declined to comment.

Wright, who tackles a rather different period world in “Anna Karenina” this fall, has never directed a straight biopic. But he’s looked at complicated real lives, notably Nathaniel Ayers’ in “The Soloist” a few years ago, and also expanded into an escape tale of a different sort with “Hanna” in 2011.

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He’d have a lot to work with here. Written by William Kalush and Larry Sloman, “The Secret Life of Houdini” is a comprehensive biography that makes some provocative claims, including the possibility that Houdini acted as a spy on behalf of Britain.

Like a long-gestating Sony project about Houdini, the Summit movie, with a draft of the script by buzzy screenwriter Noah Oppenheim, has been kicking around for a bit. Earlier in the year “The Hunger Games’” helmer Gary Ross entered discussions to direct it, but the movement stalled, and he’s now engaged with the Peter Pan origin story “Peter and the Starcatchers.”

Houdini, it should be said, is enjoying a little resurgence in the entertainment world -- Aaron Sorkin and Hugh Jackman are collaborating on a Broadway musical about him.

Hollywood frequently takes on biopics that should have the makers of Ambien worried. But Houdini feels different, a colorful life that could also come with a "Prestige-y” spin. Bring on the King of Cuffs.

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'Catching Fire': Is director Gary Ross back to his old ways?

Hugh Jackman teaming up with Aaron Sorkin on Houdini musical

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