Death Defying Acts

Cezary Skubiszewski

" The key to the success of this score is that there is enough diverse music between the three themes, source, and underscore material to make it interesting. "

Written by Thomas Kiefner - Review of the regular release

Harry Houdini, the master of illusion, has been the subject of numerous films, documentaries, books, and controversy. The most popular film was the 1953 version Houdini, starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, which took many liberties (as Hollywood does), including his death. Houdini died from a blow to the stomach causing his appendix to rupture not doing the Chinese Water Torture trick as the film claimed. This film is no exception as it comes up with a series of events that have no factual basis other than his wanting to expose psychics who believe they can contact the dead. In fact Houdini had quite a heated argument with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who did believe in this psychic phenomena.

Directed by Gillian Armstrong of Charlotte Gray and Oscar and Lucinda fame, it stars Guy Pearce as Houdini and Catherine Zeta-Jones as Mary the romantic interest. The film took place during the last year of Houdini's life in 1926. It is set for release in the US in July of 2008.

This is my first experience with the composer Cezary Skubiszewski (Two Hands, Lilian's Story), who is of Polish descent having emigrated to Australia. It is certainly a good one as Cezary certainly got my attention from the very first listen! These are not your typical generic/landscape motifs designed to fit any kind of scene or emotion on the screen but music that is well written and thought out carefully. Cezary can write a melody and one which will stay with you for longer than 10 minutes.

"Death Defying Suite" opens the CD with a main theme followed by the Houdini theme, and a Scottish motif for Mary. While the Houdini part is quite Jewish sounding with some nice viola and wordless choir work, it nicely transitions into a traditional stoic Scottish melody with first the viola followed by clarinet, and choir and flute. Both melodies are reprised in "The Final Curtain" and are repeated throughout the score in different orchestral styles.

There is dance music in the form of pre-swing on "Foxtrot Foxtrot" and a tango in "Maid Does the Dishes". "Princes Kali" is a fun klezmer style cue complete with zurna, soprano sax, oud, dholak, and piano accordion. This reviewer almost felt that the slow soprano sax solo which started the track was going to burst into a jazz riff! "Star Picture House" starts off with the piano in a "presenting" melody and then segues itself into the love theme repeated slightly more romantic in fashion in "Just Like Falling", which also features a lute, one I would not associate with Scottish "we bonnie" type of music. The lute in this case worked quite well!

The key to the success of this score as a pleasant listening experience away from the film is that there is enough diverse music between the three themes, source, and underscore material to make it interesting. While there are some lively and vibrant tracks this is not one to have to turn the volume down on. While not classical in nature it does lean more in that direction as opposed to some of the more bombastic material. A minor complaint is the lack of track listing time in the CD booklet. Nice effort.


1. Death Defying Suite (7.43)
2. Immoral Souls (2.04)
3. The Great Houdini (2.57)
4. Princes Kali (02.58)
5. The Star Picture House 1.37)
6. Hello Edinburgh (1.10)
7. Houdini's Angel (3.10)
8. My Immortal Soul (2.11)
9. The Audition (2.37)
10. You're the One (2.54)
11. Scott's Monument (2.10)
12. Benji's Nightmare (1.53)
13. Foxtrot Foxtrot (2.12)
14. Love or Money (3.41)
15. Maid Does the Dishes (2.13)
16. Just Like Falling (2.44)
17. You Saved Me (2.33)
18. The Final Curtain (5.15)

Total Length: 52.02
(click to rate this score)  
(total of 8 votes - average 2.44/5)

Released by

Lakeshore Records LKS 340252 (regular release 2008)

Conducted & Orchestrated by

Daryl McKenzie