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STUDIO: Dark Sky Films
RUNNING TIME: 107 Minutes
• Fats & Friends Featurette
• Cinematographer Victor J. Kemper Interview
• Anthony Hopkins Interview
• Anthony Hopkins Radio Interview
• Ann-Margret Make-up Test
• Theatrical Trailer, TV Spots, Radio Spots
• Photo Gallery
The really good directors – the ones who are artists as well as craftsmen – put their efforts to horror at least once. Oliver Stone had The Hand, Stanley Kubrick had The Shining and Sylvester Stallone had Staying Alive. Horror is a visceral experience for an audience. When pulled off properly, it is the most effective genre for drawing a reaction. Richard Attenborough’s foray into horror came between his two (arguably) best films A Bridge Too Far and Ghandi. In fact, Attenborough accepted the assignment to secure Ghandi as his next project. Perhaps this is why his horror film Magic fails on some very basic levels. His heart just wasn’t in it.
"What did the cannibal get when he was late for dinner? The cold shoulder!’
Is this thing on?"
Pre-Sir Anthony Hopkins plays Corky, a terminally shy man with dreams of performing a magic act in front of a live audience. After years of studying under a professional magician, he takes his shot at a local amateur night. He bombs miserably and takes out his anger on the audience. Flash forward and suddenly Corky has an agent (Burgess Meredith) and a gimmick in a ventriloquist dummy named "Fats". Flash forward again and Corky is now a sought-after talent who has been offered his own television series. When the subject of a physical exam for insurance purposes comes up, Corky has a breakdown and takes a taxi to his home town. He rents a house near a lake from Peggy Ann Snow (Ann-Margret) whom he had a crush on in high school. Since their days together suffering through public education Peggy married Big Man On Campus Duke (played by perennial That Guy Ed Lauter). Using his dummy as an excuse, Corky goes as far as murder to insure that the three of them can be together. The three being Corky, Peggy and Fats.
The problems with Magic are apparent midway through the first act. When we first met Corky, he was a timid man with anger issues. In the next scene Corky already has his dummy and is a hit on stage. Two scenes later Corky has a severe case of multiple personality disorder with his second dissociative personally manifested in his dummy "Fats". What fun is there in watching a man who is insane? The interesting part about a man going insane is, well, watching him go insane. We are robbed of this and flung headlong into the last stages of Corky’s mental illness.
The Blue Fairy’s timing could not have been any worse.
The shining redemption in Magic is the fantastic performances by the leads. Hopkins carries this film like no one else could. Obviously, he had to learn ventriloquism for the role and he compares favorably against greats like Edgar Bergen and that "on a stick" guy. All of the dummies lines were done by Hopkins in real time on the set. You can watch his lips, but you hardly see them move. Beyond that, Hopkins brings an authenticity to the film. A sequence where Hopkins plays a demented version of Simon Says with Fats as Simon would have been hammed up by any other thespian on the planet. Each scene Hopkins is in is like a little gem of perfect acting choices. Seen individually, they prove to be some of the best work any actor would be proud to have on their audition tape. As a whole, however, they work against the film. Corky’s anger management issues pop up while he’s wooing the married Peggy Ann Snow and they are so violent one wonders why she’d even consider running off with him. I place the blame for this squarely on Attenborough. It’s his job to reign in his actors when they take a scene too far. Any love story aspect of this film is wasted simply because the strongest acting possible is the last thing needed for suspension of disbelief.
The near 40 year old (at the time of filming) Ann-Margret was still astonishingly beautiful. Ann-Margret was best known for hip-swiveling for Elvis Presley in Viva Las Vegas. Today she’s probably more well known for her parts in the two Grumpy Old Men films as Jack Lemmon’s love interest. Ann-Margret’s turn in Magic is a nice bit of casting. Who wouldn’t hold a torch for this longstanding bombshell? Burgess Meredith as Corky’s unbelievably good-hearted agent (oxymoron) puts in a nice scenery chewing performance. Meredith is one of those few actors who was able to fit into any film from early presentational style acting to the post-Stanislavsky kind. As a character actor he was one of the best. Any film… any film… Meredith is in is an automatic treat. A long quiet scene in Magic where we watch Meredith simply light a cigar has us mesmerized.
Magic‘s strongest aspect – the reflexive creepiness that ventriloquist dummies cause – has been killed for modern audiences by the four Child’s Play films. Without this in its arsenal, we have a character piece about a man already insane. It’s a good thing that Ghandi is such a masterpiece.
6.3 out of 10
"The Chief voted. Now will you please turn the television set on?"
Crystal clear. This is a remaster from the original negative and it shows. The cinematography by Victor J. Kemper is even better than his work on Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, with less colors. The dank, muddy cabin scenes hold a dread worthy of a better film.
8.9 out of 10
In glorious 2.0 MONO, baby! Screw your back speakers! They need a rest anyway from the Jumanji marathon you had last weekend.
2.0 out of 10
Fats & Friends Featurette – This 27 minute featurette is an interview with Dennis Alwood who was the man who taught Anthony Hopkins the art of ventriloquism as well as served as the film’s on set expert. Spliced in with the interview are scenes from different films featuring ventriloquism
Cinematographer Victor J. Kemper Interview – Kemper spends 12 minutes reminiscing about Magic with scenes from the film inserted to demonstrate his points.
Anthony Hopkins Interview – This section is from a bilingual talk show Hopkins appeared on to pimp Magic. This portion alone makes this disk worth buying. The host asks Hopkins the same question in both English and Spanish and then translates Hopkins’ answer as he’s giving it. It’s a necessary distraction for this format, but having someone you’re talking to translate what you’re saying is like having someone constantly interrupt you. Hopkins, being the professional gentleman that he is, takes it all in stride. Besides, he’s flipping a coin over his knuckles the whole time which must have been distracting for the reviewer. Take that, bilingual boy!
Anthony Hopkins Radio Interview – 3 minutes of Anthony Hopkins quickly selling Magic. The video portion is outtakes from the film.
Beardsley’s oral dyslexia made even something as common
as opening champagne an embarrassing situation.
Ann-Margret Make-up Test – This is a little over a minute with no audio. If you’ve seen make-up tests before then you know what to expect. The actor in full make-up turns around for the camera giving the cinematographer different angles to work with. Normally these things are saved only when a major make-up effect is used such as in a monster movie. This one just has cute little Ann-Margret posing for us.
Theatrical Trailer, TV Spots, Radio Spots – Here is the original theatrical trailer with your typical 70s narrator warning you that this movie will scare the peaches out of you. The TV and radio spots are mostly different variations on the theatrical trailer… except for the TV spot that was aired only once. It’s a minimalist thing using a slow zoom onto the dummy while he recites a rhyming poem ending with the words "we’re dead". Apparently this spot scared kids enough that television stations were called by many parents complaining. Kids in the 70s were pussies. Their parents were coddling Dr. Spock readers.
Photo Gallery – 25 pictures including international film posters, photo tests of the dummy and some original swag.
8.2 out of 10
"God. What was I thinking. He seemed so cute last night
in that maximum security jumpsuit."
Fats’ and Hopkins’ heads. Nothing too innovative here. On the other hand, kids born in the 70s and were scared out of their minds by "that ventriloquist dummy movie" will recognize that this is that movie. Artistically they could have done better but as for product recognition they hit their mark.
6.1 out of 10
"Hurry up. You’re missing Howard’s End."
Overall: 7.0 out of 10