Thursday, 2 May 2013

The Man from Beyond (1922)

Everyone knows about Harry Houdini the magician. The most famous escape artist in history, Houdini was a legend in his own lifetime and remains one of the most recognised names in history. But there was more to Houdini that just magic. He was also a pioneer aviator, being the first man to fly in Australia. And he was a movie producer and movie star. His best-known movie is The Man from Beyond.

Two survivors of an Arctic exploration mission find an old sailing ship trapped in the ice. The ship has been there for a century. That’s extraordinary enough, but they also find one of the crew members frozen in the ice. When they thaw him out they discover that he is alive!

The man, Howard Hillary (Harry Houdini), had been the first mate of the ship on its last voyage in 1820. One of the men who found him is scientist Dr Gregory Sinclair. Sinclair decides not to tell Hillary the truth right away, as he fears that the shock of finding himself effectively transported in time for a century might be too much for him.

Hillary keeps asking what has happened to Felice. She was the woman he was in love with. She was a fellow passenger on that last fateful cruise in 1820.

Sinclair takes Hillary to the home of Dr Crawford Strange. When they arrive a wedding is about to take place between Dt Strange’s daughter Felice and a certain Dr Trent. Hillary is convinced that Felice is his own Felice, not realising that his Felice has been dead for a century. Hillary disrupts the wedding, which turns out not to be a bad thing. Felice Strange had been pressured into agreeing to a marriage she did not want.

Hillary has now made an enemy of Dr Trent. Dr Trent is the villain of the piece, the man responsible for the mysterious disappearance of Felice’s father, Dr Crawford Strange.

Dr Trent manages to get Hillary committed to an insane asylum but Hillary escapes (the movie thereby making use of Houdini’s skill as an escapologist). Hillary becomes more and more convinced that somehow Felice Strange really is his long-lost love Felice Norcross. Could it be that Felice Norcross has been reincarnated as Felice Strange?

The plot is pure melodrama but it’s fun. Houdini wrote the original story himself, as well as producing the movie and starring in it. The one major criticism that can be made against this movie is that it doesn’t really do enough with its central idea of a man who finds himself living a century ahead of his own time.

As an actor Houdini was rather limited but he’s capable enough for this sort of melodrama and he does have a certain presence.

Burton L. King was a prolific director in the silent era with a career going back as far as 1913. Modern audiences may find this movie to be a little stilted and perhaps too melodramatic but if you can accept it as melodrama

Imagine the worst DVD transfer you’ve ever seen and then multiply its flaws four-fold and you’ll have some idea of the sheer awfulness of Alpha Video’s presentation. Even by the very low standards of this company this disc is a shocker.

Houdini as the star makes The Man from Beyond an interesting historical curiosity, but fortunately it’s fairly entertaining as well. Worth a look.

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