Part 2: Is this really how it went down?

TC Dressing Room Punch Water Cell

If we are referring to the first preliminary green screenplay (4-23-52) for the movie “Houdini” starring Tony Curtis, then the answer is, YES.  

As a result of the blow (i.e., punch) described in Part 1, Houdini is in bad shape when he goes on stage a little later that evening to do his most hazardous escape — the water  cell:

As he is placed in the water cell upside down, he sees the grotesque Halloween costumes and masks of some of the children in the packed audience and his face shows fear as he realizes it is Halloween night.

The curtains are drawn across the cell at the regularly allotted time.  Bess apprehensively signals Otto who whips the curtain aside, discovers Houdini lying unconscious, and quickly smashes the glass with an axe…

Bess is beside the dying Houdini in ambulance.  His voice is barely audible as he says, “I’ll come back, Bess — I’ll find a way — “  Bess nods through her tears…

It is Halloween night, 1936, and Bess and Sydney arrive at the abandoned Houdini house.  For the past nine years on the anniversary of Houdini’s death, Bess has come here to see if he could contact her.  She promised him to try for ten years before giving up and tonight is to be the last attempt.

Bess and Sydney wait patiently in Houdini’s study which has kept intact. Midnight comes and again nothing has happened.  Sydney is urging the intense Bess to leave when suddenly she hears the Hungarian waltz. A beatific look comes over her face, and Sydney, hearing nothing is puzzled.  Bess sways to the music and moves over to a faded poster.  It reads Schultz Dime Museum and shows a picture of Houdini at the age of twenty, wearing is ill-fitting dress suit and pulling a rabbit out of a silk hat.  The music swells to a crescendo….  [Screenplay read and summarized by Dorothy Harrington, 4-30-52]


If we are referring to the final version of the Tony Curtis movie (1953), then the answer is NO.

It went down like this:

Houdini is lying down in his dressing room, and winces, when Otto touches his stomach.

Otto: “Still hurts you there doesn’t?”

Houdini: “It’s alright.”

Otto: “You should have had that taken care of a long time ago.”

Houdini: “It’s nothing, it comes and goes.”

Otto: “I think it is your appendix”

Houdini: “Since when have you been practicing medicine?”

Otto: “You don’t have to be a doctor to know that something is wrong”

Houdini: “Alright I will have it looked at as soon as we finish the tour”

Later that evening, Houdini performs the Barrel Escape and the Steel Strait-Jacket Escape, but the audience wants more; they want the Torture Cell.

Houdini goes into his dressing room to prepare for the Torture Cell when he accidentally bumps his stomach against the handle of a sword protruded from a sword box illusion.  He is in obvious pain.

He enters the Pagoda Torture Cell. Houdini passes the time-limit and the cabinet is broken open, flooding the stage.  Houdini is still hanging in the cabinet, unconscious.

Bess is then seen beside the dying Houdini on stage.   He regains consciousness long enough to promise her that he will come back to her, he will find a way somehow.

We then hear the Hungarian Waltz and fade to a poster that reads Schultz Dime Museum and shows a picture of Houdini at the age of twenty, wearing is ill-fitting dress suit and pulling a rabbit out of a silk hat.  The music swells to a crescendo…  The End

According to the man (Jon Oliver) that currently sleeps in Houdini’s bed: It is believed that they changed the movies ending from Houdini getting punched to him dying in the cell because the lawyers at Paramount did not want to get a law suit since the students were still alive.  For another reason the ending could have changed, check out A New Twist on The End of Houdini by Tony Curtis.

If we are referring to how Houdini died in real life WRT the Houdini death blow (i.e., punch), then you will need to talk to Houdini’s Ghost (Patrick Culliton) or The Female Houdini (Dorothy Dietrich) for an answer and rethink the rethinking on the Houdini punch.

6 thoughts on “Part 2: Is this really how it went down?

  1. Wow! That is fantastic! The original ending of HOUDINI. Funny how it’s similar to the endings of The Great Houdinis and Houdini ’98.

    I really gotta go read that screenplay. Thanks.

    • Great observation on the similarities to the other Houdini movie endings. And, Yes, you definitely need to read the different iterations of the screenplay.

  2. I haven’t read the script in a very, very long time, but I seem to remember that there was a third ending. As I try to remember it, I think it was just Bess(Janet Leigh) at the end by herself and Houdini has been dead for awhile. I think she was doing something with a flower setting.

  3. The ending that I remember 30yrs ago had Tony injury his stomach when abruptly turning into a sword hilt while in his dressing room preparing for the Pagoda chamber.
    After the accident on stage, and his subsequent death, the years pass by with Janet returning to the home once a year. On the last occasion, a stranger attended and whispered some thing to her inferring he did in fact come back.. Am I remembering this correctly.

    • You remember the first part about the sword correctly, but the last part you may be getting confused with another movie.

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