The great escape artist and magician Harry Houdini was all the rage earlier this year. DreamWorks acquired a Houdini-centered spec script from “Changeling” writer J. Michael Straczynski called “Voices From The Dead,” Sony enlisted the upcoming “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” filmmaker Francis Lawrence to direct an untitled biopic and Summit paired with hot new screenwriter Noah Oppenheim (the “WarGames” remake) to adapt “The Secret Life of Houdini.”
In May of this year, Gary Ross became interested and entered discussions to direct the latter iteration, but those conversations stalled and he moved on to attach himself to a prequel about Peter Pan. And now, apparently Lionsgate/Summit have entered what sounds like early discussions with “Anna Karenina” director Joe Wright, but they sound far from concrete.
Based on the book by William Kalush and Larry Sloman subtitled “The Making of America’s First Superhero,” the novel isn’t just your average biography and suggests the escapologist and illusionist also served as a spy for the U.S. and British governments before World War I. It also purports Houdini was asked to be an adviser to Czar Nicholas II’s court in pre-revolutionary Russia. And so the idea, of course, rather than have a straight biopic with points of potentially revisionist history, was to transform the material into a ‘Sherlock Holmes‘/’Indiana Jones‘-style action/adventure/thriller.
This might not be entirely far-fetched as Wright told us last year that he was keen on directing an adventure picture set in Africa based on the book “Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa’s Greatest Explorer” by Tim Jeal, which sounds somewhat in the same vein. Houdini is so in vogue at the moment that Aaron Sorkin and Hugh Jackman are collaborating on a Broadway musical about him (guys, just do that on the screen!). It remains to be seen if Wright will sign on; these talks sound like preliminary conversations with interested parties. But it definitely appears that one way or another the allure and mystique of this stunt performer can’t be far from hitting the silver screen in the next few years. Let’s hope the studios are smart enough to not face off in the same year against each other. [L.A. Times]