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                                     Five-Page Synopsis

                                 {The Perfect Family and First Date Movie}
    A film that demonstrates: finding true love may be the greatest trick of all.
       Screenplay(c) by Barbara Glasser, based on “Hyman the Magnificent,”                       from A PLAGUE OF DREAMERS (Scribner) by Steve Stern                     
Guaranteed:  No violence.  No obscenity.  No nudity.  No crudity.  No car chases.         No ingestion of questionable substances.  Just one memorable kiss, initiated by Miriam.


A character-driven Coming-of-Age Romantic Comedy set in 1926, in 'The Pinch'--the immigrant section of  Memphis, Tennessee (populated first by the Irish, then the Greeks and Italians, followed by the Jews of Middle Europe).   The orphan HYMAN WEISS, who, in his quest for purpose and identity, has reason to believe that the great Houdini might be his father.

Raised by his AUNT FRIEDA and UNCLE SHARKEY above their dry goods store on North Main, Hyman feels that he has a greater destiny than selling fabric behind a counter at NUSSBAUM'S EMPORIUM.  When the world-famous magician dies at 52 from a ruptured appendix, Hyman decides to take up the mantle of his 'spiritual father' and become Escape Artist: HYMAN THE MAGNIFICENT.

MIRIAM ROSEN, the village beauty, is sought after by all the young men in ‘The Pinch,’ all that is except for Hyman.  It is Hymie’s seeming indifference to Miriam, as well as his compelling personality, that draws Miriam to him. 


Set in the not too distant past with timeless themes that reverberate in the present, featuring voice-overs of Miriam’s shy, appealing younger brother Stuart, who is also Hyman’s incongruous best friend, SON OF HOUDINI explores universal themes: identity, ambition, conquering fears, finding the courage to love and be loved, in a quaint but universal time and place, with light-hearted profundity and comedic depth.

Hyman, speaking to Stuart (and partly for Miriam’s benefit): “Do you realize that Houdini’s last name was Weiss!  Erich Weiss!  The same as mine!   And his first partner was named Jack Hyman!  If Houdini had a son, he might have named him Hyman Weiss!”

HYMAN: “Stuart, Americans of Hebrew extraction can do anything they put their minds to: look at Al Jolson, the singer; or Benny Leonard, the fighter…     Flo Ziegfeld, the great impresario; or Arnold Rothstein, the famous gangster… Bernard Baruch is an advisor to Presidents… and composers: Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin…  But, Houdini, Stuart, Houdini was the greatest of them all….”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Attempting to establish himself as an Escape Artist, Hyman is unable to rehearse his tricks for one reason or another, and each performance ends in disaster, one worse than the last.

HYMAN: “Stuart, for centuries, Jews did nothing but read books and get clobbered by Cossacks, but this one, this Houdini—he was more than just a showman: he was a millionaire and a movie star, a friend of Presidents and a pilot of flying machines…”

As Miriam is being wooed by every eligible in town, Hyman makes his debut at the IDLE HOUR CINEMA Amateur Show as HYMAN THE MAGNIFICENT (with Miriam, his reluctant assistant).  Trying to free himself, from the “Punishment Suit Release,”  Hyman the Magnificent falls into the orchestra pit and breaks his arm.
In his second performance, “Escape from the Tortures of the Procrustean Bed,” Hyman’s leg is impaled on a spike.  As he is being carried from the stage, bleeding,  Hyman is banished forever from “The Idle Hour Cinema.”  Miriam, refusing to watch Hyman continue to hurt himself, resigns as his assistant.
Hyman decides to do Trick Number Three at the MARKET SQUARE.

HYMAN: You know, Stuart, Market Square was once the site of slave auctions. Everyone has come to watch a man break free in a place where people have been so unmercifully bound.  That’s why I’m the “Universal Symbol of Liberation!”

Hyman is trussed and hung high upside down from the old oak tree.  From the strain of his exertions to free himself:  we see it coming, though we hope it won't--the bough breaks.  Bouncing from branch to branch slows his descent and he remains pretty much intact (except for his old arm injury, and new limp); however, now Hyman is banished from Nussbaum’s.

Finding shelter at BLOCKMAN'S SALVAGE YARD, (Mr. Blockman takes in Hyman—he could be Elijah), Hyman works alongside the handsome CORDELLE—product of many gene pools, and RUFUS, an African Albino.   At Blockman’s Salvage, we see  Hebrew letters which appear on screen with English subtitles:  Mr. Blockman, reading “The Forward,” tucked inside his accounts book, the Hebrew letters translated on the screen read:                           “Neither exploiter nor exploited be.”

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hyman’s next trick, “Escape from the Inundated Chamber of the Milk Can,” he plans to perform in the Salvage Yard on a Saturday, when Mr. Blockman ”is in shul all day.”  Widely advertised on both sides and on the back of  Blockman's Salvage cart (pulled by the old faithful Queen Esther), the event draws an enormous crowd, with Cordelle and Rufus on either side of the front gate, collecting “only one thin dime” from every audience member.

While the trick appears to have been a success, Hyman almost drowns and gets an inner ear infection that causes a raging fever which puts him into a fugue state of complete incoherence.  However, now he is rich!  With his share of the gate, Hyman is able to move to a hotel in town and wait for the world to beat a path to his door.


While waiting, Hyman decides to do the “Packing Crate Plunge” off the Harahan Bridge, complete with scarlet pompoms and roman candles.  However, when the crate, ignited “just for effect,” hits the water, it smashes to smithereens.  Hyman is miraculously rescued by the crew of the "Enchanted Isle" and taken to the hospital with broken ribs and superficial burns.

Visiting Hyman in the hospital, Miriam shows him an article from the local newspaper, PINCH MAN TAKES DIVE, with a cartoon of a man swathed in bandages, bed springs coming out of his head, with a caption that reads:. “And for my next trick…”  Even though Miriam says, "They're all laughing at you," Hyman couldn’t be more pleased with his notoriety.  Then Miriam tells Hyman she has accepted Bernie Saperstein’s proposal of marriage.

STUART: “Hyman looked the way Houdini must have looked on that fateful night backstage when the magician was poked in the gut before he had a chance to brace himself against the punch that set loose the poison in his bloodstream that killed him.”

At Hyman’s feeble “Mazel Tov,” Miriam takes a hospital Modesty Curtain (like the prop she used as his assistant), pulls it around his bed, whispers “Escape this,” and kisses him.

One evening, sitting on the roof with her brother, Miriam admits her feelings for Hyman.  Stuart wishes he could think of a way to help his sister, but reflects in sad voice-over, “Once the machinery for a Jewish wedding is set in motion, no power on earth could turn it around.”

Postponed for years due to his paralyzing stage fright, Stuart succumbs to his mother’s insistence that he finally have his Bar Mitzvah, presided over by the young enthusiastic RABBI FEIN.  At Stuart’s almost inaudible recitation in Hebrew, the camera peers over his shoulder at the Torah scroll with the Hebrew letters of Amos 5.21.24 (translated in English subtitles):
                    “I hate, despise, your feasts and festivals.
                      I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
                      But let justice swell and righteousness flow
                      Like an everlasting stream.”

Stuart barely survives his Bar Mitzvah, which is overshadowed by preparations for his sister’s wedding.

STUART: “The one things that scared me more than watching Hymie, was letting him out of my sight.”

Released from the hospital, Hyman tells Stuart he is going to perform the most difficult trick of all, “Buried Alive”--the one that was almost Houdini's undoing, but this one is he going to rehearse.  Stuart convinces Hyman that he should have  a witness.   Hyman will rehearse the trick on Halloween Eve, the anniversary of Houdini’s death, in the Catfish Bayou, surrounded by ramshackle shanties and an old slave burial ground.

Meanwhile, Miriam and Bernie attend Rabbi Fein’s traditional premarital counseling, during which Miriam drifts off into memoires of her various encounters with Hyman—her versions differing from the scenes we have seen earlier.  Concluding his counseling, the Rabbi quotes from the Prophet Hosea: the Hebrew letters for “Va ar resh ee LaOlam” appear on the screen with the English translation:  “I marry you forever.”

Wearing a skeleton costume to get out of the house ”to trick or treat,” (with his mother shouting after him, "and stay away from that Hyman Weiss,"), Stuart helps Hyman dig the grave, piling the earth on an old coal chute.  When it is time to release the earth on top of Hyman, Stuart refuses ("Miriam would kill me."),  Hyman is prepared with a prong he had planned to use if alone, but the prong doesn’t work.  Hyman pleads, implores, orders Stuart to push the earth on top of him.  Stuart finally gives in and sets the earth to moving down the chute.
After a few moments, Stuart realizes that Hyman is not coming up and starts digging frantically with his hands.  Then he remembers the shovel.  Digging as fast and hard as he can, Stuart knows it is futile. When he reaches Hyman, Stuart jumps into the hole.  Hyman is lifeless, cold.  Stuart picks up an arm and it drops like a marionette’s.  Stuart shouts for help and starts to cry.  A few kids from the shanties come to see what is going on and when they see a skeleton holding a corpse they run away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suddenly, Hyman opens one eye; then the other.   "I was dead, Stuart.”  Hyman tells Stuart what happened to him when he was on the other side.  He saw everyone in the town who had died recently (Mr. Klotwog, Mrs. Pinsky, and the Birnbaum kid).  Most importantly, he meets his parents---a little disappointed to find out that he is not Houdini’s son.

HYMAN:  Then I started to think, was there anything I was afraid of?  Certainly not danger, or pain, or even death—which is no big deal…  But it occurred to me, when I looked back on my life from the other side, everything was faded already to shadows—everything, that is, except for Miriam—in her smoldering anticipation—lit up as bright as my own dead family…  I was crushed under the weight of the clay.  I wasn’t alone, but I was lonely and I wanted to come back, so I escaped. 


Hyman tells Stuart that he “jimmied the lock” and came back, “but I cannot tell you how, because that is a professional secret I must take to my grave.”
What Hyman
 learns on the other side will determine his future.

It is the day of Miriam’s wedding to Bernie Saperstein.  Everyone in town has turned out.  Men downstairs.  Women upstairs.  When the blessing over the wine is spoken, Stuart girds his courage to overcome his still paralyzing stage fright. He walks to the altar and pulls a cord, releasing muslin draperies that surround the wedding couple.  At the top of his voice, Stuart counts backwards from ten.

Shouting the words used at each of Hyman’s performances, “Behold, a miracle,” Stuart pulls back the draperies revealing Hyman the Magnificent, in complete magician’s regalia, standing next to Miriam under the wedding canopy.  
“You want kiddies, I’ll give you six kiddies,” Hyman promises. “We’ll use them in the act….”   

 

Miriam looks at  her friend Rachel and Rachel's sister Clara.  From their exchange of glances, we know that Hyman's final trick was accomplished, in no small part, with their help.  To the muffled sounds of thumping and chains clanking somewhere in the distance emanating from Bernie Saperstein,  hidden safely away,  the Rabbi continues with the marriage ceremony.

Closing credits over the entire town (including those we have seen ‘on the other side’—because they, too are always with us) doing a joyous wedding hora to the rousing klezmer music heard throughout.  From various non-verbal signals given throughout we know that Rachel is interested in Bernie (who has been released to join in the festivites) and Clara is shyly drawn to Stuart.  This could be the start of some beautiful friendships.

Screenplay (c) by Barbara Glasser
Registered Writers Guild of America East   
Based on “Hyman the Magnificent” from A PLAGUE OF DREAMERS (Scribner) with permission of the author, Steve Stern

                                                         

                                            One-Page Synopsis

    Coming-of-Age Romantic Comedy/Family Film/First-Date Movie    In 1926, an orphan, from 'The Pinch,' (the immigrant section of Memphis, Tennessee),  in his quest for purpose and identity, has reason to believe that the great Houdini might be his father.  When Houdini dies suddenly, our hero Hyman Weiss, decides to follow in his father’s footsteps and become an escape artist: “Hyman the Magnificent.” Unable to rehearse his tricks, for one reason or another, every performance of  Hyman’s ends in disaster, one worse than the last.

Everyone in town is after the village beauty, Miriam Rosen, but she only has eyes for the compelling Hyman, in part because in her he seems to be uninterested.  Told through the eyes of Miriam's shy, appealing younger brother Stuart, who is also Hymie’s incongruous best friend.

After two disastrous performances, Miriam resigns as Hyman’s assistant because she can’t continue to watch Hyman “hurt himself.”  

After three more dramatic failures, Hyman decides to do the trick that was almost Houdini’s undoing: ‘Buried Alive,’ but this one he is going to rehearse, consenting to take Stuart with him.  When the trick fails to work, Stuart digs up Hyman from the mounds of earth on top of him, only to find Hyman’s lifeless body.  

Then Hyman opens one eye; then the other.  Hyman tells Stuart what he learned “on the other side,” but he can’t reveal how he “jimmied the lock and came back (from the dead),” because “that is a professional secret that I must take to my grave.”  What Hyman learns "on the other side" will determine his future.

Goaded by her mother, “because you aren’t getting any younger,” Miriam agrees to marry her most ardent suitor, Bernie Saperstein.

Hyman’s next trick, created with the help of  Miriam and her best friend Rachel, is ultimately successful and results in Miriam marrying the man she loves.  When the joyous wedding hora over the closing credits is danced by everyone in the village, (including those from the other side, bathed in a special light, because they, too, are always with us), there won’t be a dry eye in the house.

SON OF HOUDINI is a movie about the search for identity; ambition and perseverance; overcoming one's fears, and finding the courage to love and be loved--with light-hearted profundity and comedic depth.     A character-driven Coming-of-Age Romantic Comedy, a movie with universal themes, using the techniques of tomorrow, SON OF HOUDINI is a film that demonstrates--with extreme sleight of hand: finding true love may be the greatest trick of all.

Screenplay(c) by Barbara Glasser   Registered: Writer’s Guild East based on “Hyman the Magnificent” from A PLAGUE OF DREAMERS (Scribner), with permission of the author Steve Stern.

SilverFox Cinema presents 

Son of Houdini