Director Gillian Armstrong's film Death Defying Acts was made from an original screenplay by Tony Grisoni and Brian Ward that imagines an encounter between early-20th century escape artist Harry Houdini and a con artist posing as a medium in Scotland. With Australian actor Guy Pearce playing Houdini and composer Cezary Skubiszewski on board, it's nearly an all-Australian team, the major exception being Welsh actress Catherine Zeta-Jones as the Scottish con artist. Skubiszewski has carefully considered the characters, the plot, and the post-Victorian time period in writing his music. He has two major themes, one in klezmer style for Houdini, a Hungarian-American Jew, and the other Scottish, for Zeta-Jones' character; both feature soloist John Barrett, who plays clarinet, soprano saxophone, and flute. The story line, mixing intrigue and mystery with romance, results in some lively yet melodic orchestral passages, with specific scenes calling for silent movie-type piano music ("The Star Picture House") and period dance music ("Foxtrot Foxtrot," "Maid Does the Dishes"). By the end, with the cues "You Saved Me" and "The Final Curtain," Skubiszewski is mixing his two motifs, indicating a resolution of the mystery and romantic elements. The score responds well to the film's elements and shows off considerable versatility on the part of the composer.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
|Death Defying Acts, film score|