The Sunday Intertitle: Laser Eye Treatment

Last we saw, Harry Houdini had got himself tangled in a fishing net like a prize chump (that’s a species of fish, right?) while the deadly and misnamed Automaton advanced menacingly upon his girlfriend (she would’ve been his wife but for a previous abduction). Now read on ~

Harry escapes the net by removing it. OK, it was tied round with ropes, but this is still not one of his more impressive-looking tricks: a man can’t struggle out of a net without looking somewhat foolish somehow. He then throws the net over the Automaton, who looked foolish anyway. Our heroes escape and join up with Zita, who is in drag again and has sprained her ankle (a sure give-away: she may be dressed as a boy, but only women sprain their ankles in movies).

Corporate maneuvers in the dark: Marguerite gains control of her father’s company while dad is still struck down with the laughing madness (I feel for his ribs). Rather unwisely, Houdini tells corporate scumbitch Balcom that he’s going to have him arrested and gives him 24 hrs to prepare his revenge settle his affairs. He recruits Zita, now back in a frock and still conflicted — she loves Houdini, he keeps rescuing her, but he loves Marguerite… it’s no contest really, Houdini must DIE!

Luring the ever-gullible Harry to his pad on promises of fresh evidence, Balcom sets his scheme in motion (nice pad: particularly dig the halberds). But Zita quits Balcom’s scheme because he’s consistently failed to prove that she’s the illegitimate daughter of the laughing madman. Instead she joins his dapper son Paul at the home of Professor Q — ah-ha, THAT’S the beard guy’s name! So that’s his cave under the laughing madman’s house? How come we never see him in it? I thought the Automaton was Q for several episodes just because he was always described as being in Q’s cave. Oh well…

The villainous and hirsute old codger concocts a new scheme involving an Evil Hypnotist — Houdini breaks into Balcom’s halberd storehouse with the aid of two plainclothesmen who obligingly use him as a battering ram ~

Three… two… one… ARGH!

But there they find Balcom departed, leaving only a cheerful note predicting their imminent death from chlorine gas poisoning. And sure enough, beneath Balcom’s brass Buddha (those murderous Buddhists!) is a steaming censer of noxious vapours ~ Everybody falls down!

(Things I know from film viewing: chlorine gas can bleach the yellow from a canary’s feathers. THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. What will it do to his halberds?)

Zita tells Marguerite her Evil Hypnotist friend can cure the laughing madness. Marguerite, bamboozled half to death multiple times by this scheming stenographer, is skeptical. “Please believe me,” argues Zita, compellingly. Marguerite is instantly convinced, and goes optimistically to her doom.

Learning about Balcom’s foul gas-plan, Zita, ever whimsical, rescues Houdini by opening the window. Are the cops OK? Nobody seems to care.

Beard guy looks even more bizarre in daylight and on location than the Automaton.

If the Chinese Temple evoked Fu Manchu, the Evil Hypnotist’s dwelling is more Mabuse. Apparently he’s also an astrologer, and he has an even nicer pad than Balcom. He doesn’t even need halberds to tie the room together. And he has a Hypnotic Machine! Marguerite is soon deep in a trance state, which slows her down and cancels out the effect of the undercranking so she’s suddenly moving like somebody in the 21st century.

The Automaton is now operating out of the Chinese temple, where he’s rigged the God statue with laser-beam eyes. The Hypno-lair is right next to the temple, connected by SECRET PASSAGE (why didn’t Marguerite suspect this? Because women can’t read maps). Mesmerized, bound and gagged, the poor girl is rolled towards the deadly divine laser beams as Harry, arriving after a tip-off from the ever-fickle Zita, is mugged by thugs dressed as monks, roped up and noosed —

Can Harry escape death by hanging, and can Marguerite, not actually a professional escapologist, escape incineration by holy laser beam?

Houdini: The Movie Star (Three-Disc Collection)

2 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Laser Eye Treatment”

  1. Wonderful. Reminds of my favorite scene in Franju’s serial-inspired SHADOWMAN, also involving a room full of poison gas, evading death by opening the window, but played as comedy/parody.

  2. I must re-watch that now that Masters of Cinema have made it available in gorgeous form.

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