Almost a century after his death, Harry Houdini remains one of the most recognized names in entertainment, known not only for his baffling illusions and death-defying escapes, but also for his meticulous attention to detail. The legendary illusionist made it clear he was no magician, but a performer. Houdini’s Last Secrets closely examines some of Houdini’s most famous illusions while attempting to determine how he accomplished them.
Episode 2: Catching a bullet with his teeth
One of Houdini’s most famous illusions was catching a fired bullet with his teeth. Or was it? There are conflicting reports and opinions as to whether Houdini ever actually did this trick, and episode two tries to solve the mystery.
Houdini’s Last Secrets is very good at getting across the scientific nature behind Houdini’s illusions. Through different interviews conducted with contemporaries, historians, and authors, the show gives insight into the man, and they all agree on one thing — Harry Houdini was a careful person who never performed any of his tricks recklessly.
The episode also does a great job of highlighting how important it was to Houdini to heavily scrutinize any illusion he considered attempting. He realized that no audience wanted to see a person die on stage, but were nevertheless attracted by the possibility of it happening. Houdini was certainly a showman, but he also made sure to minimize all risks before doing any of this stunts.
Houdini’s careful nature is the main cause of much of the disagreement as to whether he really did perform the bullet trick or not. Last Secrets does an excellent job of collecting as much information as possible in order to determine whether the dangerous trick was ever performed, remaining objective the entire time, laying out all the evidence for the audience to decide what they believe.
But it’s not just about uncovering the truth behind Houdini’s past. A majority of the episode is trying to figure out if Houdini did in fact perform the bullet trick, how he would have done so with the tools of his time. It’s a simple premise that’s much more interesting than you might think.
The episode plays out like an instructional video on the scientific method. Through trial and error, the team of stunt-builder Steve Wolf and his special effects crew try to figure out how they can shoot magician Lee Terbosic in the face without hurting him. The team postulate various ideas and predictions, and test them all before moving forward with their plans.
This is not just a show about firing guns and building contraptions. The special effects teams test their theories using careful calculations. There are plenty of shows that illustrate how things are really done. Few put the care and hard work into their studies as does the team of Houdini’s Last Secrets.
So is it good?
Episode 2 of Houdini’s Last Secrets is a mixed bag. The parts dealing with Houdini himself are somewhat interesting, but are also anticlimactic. Many of the conversations are redundant and ultimately lead nowhere.
The segments on the show where Steve Wolf, Lee Terbosic and the rest of the team try to recreate the bullet catching illusion are incredibly interesting, however. Seeing how well the trick works in modern times displays the skill of the team and makes Houdini seem even more amazing.
Episode 2 of Houdini’s Last Secrets airs on Science Chanel this Sunday, January 13, at 10:00 pm eastern time.
Check out our review of the first episode, Chinese Water Torture Cell, here.