Magic is one of the best Hitchcock films not actually directed
Corky (Tony Hopkins) would be one of the best magicians in the
world if his rating were to be based entirely on technical skills.
Unfortunately, he is a timid man, entirely devoid of showmanship.
His meek personality is totally unsuited to the early stages of a
career in show business - the part where a newcomer works in
clubs, competing for the attention of a half-soused crowd.
He comes upon a solution. He alters his act from a pure magic
show to a combination of magic and ventriloquism. This shift
allows him to use the dummy to do the things he cannot do - the
raunchy patter and insult humor which are necessary to interact
with a club crowd. The dummy named "Fats" is assigned to do all
the offensive material, while Corky stays in character simply as
corky, the shy and soft-spoken guy who is more offended than
anyone by his partner's shenanigans. The problem which develops
(and I'm not spoiling anything here) is that his offstage
personality bifurcates as dramatically as seen onstage, and he
becomes utterly dependent on Fats to have a conversation with
anyone. The mental illness gradually becomes worse until he is
having long conversations with Fats in which he seems to think
there is another person in the room. When his secret is finally
uncovered by his agent (Burgess Meredith, again playing Mickie
from Rocky, except that his lines say "Cork" instead of "Rock"),
he deteriorates so completely that the Corky side of his
personality is following orders from Fats to commit murder.
As of this morning, I hadn't seen this film since it was
released in 1978, when I was in my (gasp!) twenties. Its
reputation stays completely under the radar, and you rarely hear
anyone mention it, but as I popped it in the DVD player, I was
thinking "Jeez, back then I thought this was a good movie, and my
friends thought so too." Well, guess what? It IS a good movie.
Unlike so many other fondly-remembered films from the 70s which
now seem like complete crap when separated from the pervasive 70s
mindset, Magic is not defined by its pandering to rebellious 70s
counter-culturism, its parading of laughably dated but then-hip
70s fashions, nor its gimmicky cinema verite
filmmaking. This movie could be re-released today and it would
seem to have been made now and would still seem to be taking place
in the present, except for the presence of actors now dead or much
older, and/or a few minor references like "I saw you on Carson."
It was directed with elegance and the right attention to
dramatic tension, which is a bit surprising in light of the fact
that the director was Richard Attenborough, who was best known for
stodgy big-cast films like Gandhi and A Bridge Too Far. As I
mentioned at the outset, the film is a Hitchcock clone, and a good
one. Imagine the relationship between shy, sensitive Norman Bates
and his mother, and you'll have a very good mental picture of the
relationship between Corky and Fats. As in a typical Hitchcock
film, there is no supernatural component to the mystery, and
everything can be explained by events which are really possible in
the natural universe. Fats is not an evil figure like Chuckie, but
simply a hunk of wood that is injected with an imagined
personality by its owner. To the credit of Tony Hopkins, who
actually provided the voice for Fats; the real puppeteer, who
controlled the dummy; and director Attenborough, who found many
spooky ways to insert the dummy into the scenes; the audience is
easily able to relate to Fats as a real character in the film, and
not simply an inert object in the shadows like Mama Bates.
Besides the remarkable character of Fats, what really makes the
film work is Attenborough's ability to create nail-biting tension
in various scenes. Corky buries his first murder victim at the
bottom of a small lake. The next day he is obligated to go fishing
in that lake, and his partner seems to be dragging in something of
great magnitude ... a human body, perhaps? Similar situations
arise throughout the second half of the movie, as Corky is forced
to improvise various explanations in order to cover up the trail
left by his sloppy, impulsive murder. Why is there a Rolls Royce
parked just outside of a humble country lodge? What is the story
behind the mysterious dead body that just washed up nearby? Why is
there fresh blood on some of Corky's possessions? In each case,
Corky must relieve the dramatic tension by improvising a
satisfactory explanation or by committing additional crimes. Each
stressful situation drives Corky further into madness, until ... ?
Despite all my praise for Attenborough's work here, I have to
say that he made one very glaring error. There is one scene where
Fats rolls his eyes while Hopkins is elsewhere, having just walked
away from the couch. The flub occurred because the man
manipulating Fats could not see precisely when Hopkins abandoned
the couch. Should be no big deal. Catch it in dailies and re-shoot
the scene, right? Wrong. Although Attenborough was informed of the
mistake by several people, including Dennis Alwood, the
ventriloquist who was operating the Fats figure and was
embarrassed by his mistake, Sir Richard refused to re-shoot and
left the scene in. Of course, it completely destroys the integrity
of the film, because it proves with irrefutable certainty that
Fats actually possessed an independent life, and was not just a
hunk of wood. It incorrectly injects a supernatural component into
a story which should have none, and thus it creates the
possibility that Corky is not really acting insane at all when he
talks to Fats, because Fats can act independent of Corky. Imagine
if Hitchcock had allowed Mother Bates to get up and walk around
while Norman was occupied elsewhere. For the sake of those of us
who like our mysteries tight, we simply have to pretend that we
are seeing the scene through Corky's eyes, and that he imagines
the eye movement by Fats, even though that was not the original
The author of the source novel, as well as the screenplay, is
William Goldman, who has been responsible for as many excellent
movies as anyone in the second half of the twentieth century.
Magic is an excellent film, but Goldman has received a writing
credit on 17 better ones, per IMDb:
- (8.20) - The
Princess Bride (1987)
- (8.10) -
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
- (7.90) - All
the President's Men (1976)
- (7.60) -
- (7.49) -
Marathon Man (1976)
- (7.10) - A
Bridge Too Far (1977)
- (7.04) - No
Way to Treat a Lady (1968)
- (6.93) -
Soldier in the Rain (1963)
- (6.90) -
- (6.88) -
- (6.80) - The
Stepford Wives (1975)
- (6.70) -
Hearts in Atlantis (2001)
- (6.70) -
- (6.60) - The
Hot Rock (1972)
- (6.40) - The
Ghost and the Darkness (1996)
- (6.40) -
Absolute Power (1997)
- (6.31) - The
Great Waldo Pepper (1975)
- (6.12) -
He won two Oscars (Butch Cassidy, All the President's Men) as
well as two Edgars for two completely different films (Magic,
Marathon Man). A fifth and sixth film (Misery, The Princess Bride)
were nominated for Saturns. If ever a man deserved a lifetime
achievement award, it is Bill Goldman of Highland Park, Illinois.
Oh, yeah, one more plus about Magic. There is a romantic
sub-plot in which Corky returns to his home town to woo his
high-school sweetheart. They go to bed together. We see her
breasts. The sweetheart is played by Ann-Margret.
They're real, and they're spectacular.
Bonus: You probably know that Ann-Margret also did a nude scene
in 1971's Carnal Knowledge, but you may not remember CC and
Company. You should, although not for the quality of the movie. CC
and Company starred no less distinguished a Royal Shakespearian
thespian than the legendary Sir Broadway Joseph William Namath,
making his film debut only a year after his unlikely but
pre-guaranteed triumph over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
Here are a few caps of Ann-Margret's dark nudity from that
immortal cinema classic.
The trailer from Candy, Heath
- Acclaimed director Neil
Armfield has adapted Luke Davies' best-selling novel
"Candy" and produced a contemporary love story of
startling beauty for the screen. In the title role,
Abbie Cornish delivers a fearless portrayal of a young
artist whose lust for life takes her to the edge of
sanity. Heath Ledger breathes a sweet and tender
optimism into Dan, a sometime-poet lost in love with
Candy. In heroin they find a path to limitless pleasure.
But as addiction takes hold they lose the very thing
they sought. "Candy" opens the door on a dream vision
that will have meaning for all who have been dazzled by
the beauty of the world.
Two trailers and three promotional
clips from The Break-Up,
the rom-com with Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn.
Ya gotta love the way amazon.com
advertises a product!
The Big Shave is a short film made by
Martin Scorsese in 1967
A featurette on the upcoming
chick-flick The Devil Wears Prada
WHITE HOUSE SAYS IT IS PREPARED TO
BLAME OTHERS FOR BIRD FLU OUTBREAK
... Hopes to Hit the Ground Running in Blame Game
- “We learned the lessons of
Hurricane Katrina,” Mr. Snow said. “Disaster hit, and we
were unprepared to blame others for it – but not this
Mr Tambourine Man played a song for
me: Bob Dylan's DJ debut draws praise
Watch Wednesday night's episodes of
Lost and Alias online
Hot chicks practice their topless
Ricky Williams may play in Canada
Janet Jackson: Fat No More (Part 3)
Cleared of murder by DNA, he's killed
Top 10 ways to make Star Trek cool
10 examples of science stuff you got
wrong at School
Nostalgic T-Shirts of Tomorrow ::
"Variety reports that Marvel's Silver
Surfer is on course to become a linchpin in Fantastic Four
For the second time in a month,
police in Salisbury, Md., are investigating a report of a
man glued to a toilet seat.
URL says it all:
The Daily Show looks at oil prices
Worst idea of the day:
A live-action Jetsons movie - from
the producer of Catwoman
The World's First Adjustable Heat
For HomeStarr fans:
The King of Town gets his own show?
"Picasso portrait sells for $95m "
- And that was a bargain! It was
knocked down 30% because nobody can figure out who or
what it is a portrait of
Top Ten Ways United States Automakers
Can Increase Sales
- "Less rack, more pinion"
- "Find a way to make objects in
mirror appear even closer"
American nerds in Japan
- "With so many videos floating
around of Japanese tourists looking lost and confused in
America, it's nice to see the tables turned for once.
They're surprisingly nice to the nerds, and their
infatuation with Japanese culture."
Clip #2 from X-Men 3
- It's actually an interview with
Magneto. You need to go to 2:56 to see the X-Man Clip.
There is a DaVinci code clip at :49
American 'Idol' dumps the 17-year-old
- The article also includes a
video of the performance that got her axed
This week's movies (2900 screens):
Hoot - 13% positive reviews
- Hollywood Reporter called the
kiddie pic with an ecological message "a blandly generic
family film," and other reviewers used adjectives like
"preachy," "ludicrous," "soporific," and "crummy." Not
to mention "deplorable."
This week's movies (1500 screens):
An American Haunting - 36% positive
- Slant Magazine has an
interesting take on it .... An American Haunting
takes the spurious "based on real events" claim to new
extremes, proffering a ghost story that's been (as per
the production notes) "validated by the State of
Tennessee as the only case in U.S. history where a
spirit or entity caused the death of a human being."
What this really means is that the people of Tennessee
circa 1818 — the setting for this tale of a family's
problems with a malevolent demon — were an unreliably
superstitious bunch, as Courtney Solomon's 19th-century
film seems about as rooted in historical fact as his
previous directorial outing, Dungeons & Dragons.
This week's movies (3800 screens)
Mission: Impossible III - 75%
- Owen Gleiberman (EW) reflected
the general feeling: "A gratifyingly clever,
booby-trapped thriller that has enough fun and
imagination and dash to more than justify its
The Weekend Warrior makes his
predictions for the upcoming weekend.
- The story of this weekend, of
course, is whether America is sick of Tom Cruise.
Warrior thinks enough of them will show up give MI-3 a
higher gross than the rest of the Top Twelve combined.
- If his prediction is right, the
Dirty Dozen will be more than 60% ahead of the
equivalent group last year, and MI-3 will almost
single-handedly beat last year's entire total!
Lock in your guess: real or spoof?
Hasselhoff to begin new career as a
Pink confesses to being a lousy lay
Yellow asterisk: funny (maybe). White asterisk: expanded format.
Blue asterisk: not mine. No asterisk: it probably sucks.
Munich is allegedly based on the Israeli reaction to the slaughter of their
Olympic team at the Munich Olympics by members of the Black September
Palestinian extremists. A Mossad agent (Eric Bana) is tasked with leading a
clandestine team im a mission to take out 11 key planners of the terrorist
attack. Along the way, he and his men have moral reservations about what they
are doing, and there is some doubt raised as to whether the Palestinians are
any worse than the Israelis. Bana's conscience is further bothered by the very
pregnant wife that he must be away from. When the Palestinians start targeting
his team, life gets even more interesting.
I have been a Steven Spielberg fan since I sat mesmerized watching Dennis
Weaver in a Dual with an unseen truck driver on TV in 1971. I don't care if he
is making entertainment films like Raiders, or message films like Schindler's
List. He is a class act, and normally sells whatever he works on. But I felt
that this one was a waste of my time. A whole lot of this happened in the 164
minutes of running time, but I had trouble following what was going on because
of the dark photography, and the non-linear story-telling, with the Olympic
Village massacre intercut with the rest of the film. Nobody's character was
developed sufficiently that I much cared what happened to them.
As near as I can tell, the film's proponents see it is an allegory of 9/11
and our response, and feel that Spielberg is saying that there is no peace at
the end of a revenge fight. This message was wasted on me, as I have been
critical since before the war started, so this was not an eye-opener.
Further, I found it very cold and dry. In an example that many use as one
of the better scenes, a bomb is placed in a phone. It will be detonated from a
handset. The target's young daughter answers the phone, and there is barely
time to stop the man with the trigger. The daughter leaves the building, and
the complete the hit. Had Spielberg been going for heart and emotion, he would
have ended this strong scene by showing the young daughter's face as her
father's window explodes above her.
IMDb readers say 7.7. Ebert and Berardinelli agree at 4 stars. I can't
account for all that praise or the five Oscar nominations, other than they
were influenced by the director, not the film, but it is clear that people who
love message film lovers enjoy this one, making it a C+
Fight for Your Life (1975)
This is the least politically correct action thriller you will ever see.
Many theaters wouldn't even screen this film, fearing violence on their
premises. It is banned to this day in Great Britain.
A group of three convicts escapes from a transport wagon after a traffic
accident, and ends up invading the home of a law-abiding black family,
including a deacon father, a mother, a salty grand mother, a young son, and a
virginal teenaged daughter. The gain consists of a southern white trash bigot,
an Asian rapist/murderer, and a Latino murderer. Before they arrive at the
house, they rob a filling station, and then a liquor store, shooting the owner
right next to his baby.
The three are pure evil, and most of the film consists of their heaping one
indignity after another upon their victims, to set and justify up the revenge
ending. Their actions include killing a young boy, raping and killing a white
woman (Bonnie Martin) who had been engaged to a different son who died
tragically, and taking turns raping the virginal daughter (Yvonne Ross).
The film was made for less than $90K, and is much better than the budget
would suggest. Fight for Your Life is not a pleasant film, but it does
produce a powerful visceral reaction. I can almost guarantee you will get
involved enough to hate the villains by the end of the film.
This is a C-.
IMDb readers say 6.5
Dann reports on Alien Abduction:
A pretty good Sci-Fi/Horror script is somewhat impaired by
some pretty bad acting, but fans will still enjoy it. B-movie all the way,
this 2005 gorefest gets around the acting with an interesting if
improbable storyline, and of course, some nice nudity.
Four campers are abducted
by aliens, who do unspeakable things like ripping out their guts. Instead
of dying, the happy campers wake up in a military hospital, where they
have hundreds of other abducted for company.
Unfortunately, most are
being subjected to experiments that either kill or totally debilitate
them, such as drilling 5-inch holes in their brain, and those that aren't
must prove their allegiance to the government, and total secrecy about
what happened, before they can go home.
Neat enough plot, plenty of
action as one of our campers (Megan Lee Ethridge) struggles to
escape a situation even worse than the alien abduction, and lots of gore
for the bloodthirsty horror fan.
Megan Lee Ethridge