The October Diaries: Magic

Illustration by Max Brown
Blurbs by Sean & Christof

October 2nd, 2015:

Year: 1978
Director: Richard Attenborough
Format: Blu-ray
From IMDB: A ventriloquist is at the mercy of his vicious dummy while he tries to renew a romance with his high school sweetheart.
Taglines: Abracadabra, I sit on his knee. Presto chango, and now he is me. Hocus Pocus, we take her to bed. Magic is fun; we’re dead.

Christof’s Take:

What I Liked:

Ann-Margret! Anthony Hopkins! And the never-better Burgess Meredith! Great performances all around! Ann-Margret and Burgess Meredith are firing on all cylinders in the the charm department. And Anthony Hopkins is firing on all cylinders in the not-charm department. (His inciting incident, in fact, is being told to “find yourself some charm, kid”, but what he finds is a dummy.

William Goldman! Smooth writing from a smooth writer. A dummy is a choice symbol to get funky with themes of autonomy and the shadow self.

Richard Attenborough! Grand directing from a grand director. Even such slow-cooked, laid-back, psychological horror always came across as big in scope and urgent in the telling. Watching Magic, you can totally get the sense that whoever had directed it was definitely going to go on to direct Gandhi as their next major motion picture.

What I Didn’t Like:

This movie has maybe the weirdest scene to act as prelude to a kiss, let alone a subsequent love-making montage. I loved the scene, and it broke my heart in a weird way, but I really wasn’t expecting it to lead to romance. Ann Margaret’s character just kind of shrugged off some heavy-duty warning signs, and I feel like that is asking a lot for an audience to shrug off her off-shrugging.

Say No To Shrugs!

Final Thoughts:

It seems to be some kind of ultimate in psychological horror. For a movie with a quite low body count, it certainly doesn’t need it. The best pieces of horror — the ones most impressively rendered and the ones that instilled the most fear — had more to do with the interiority of the character, and watching the psyche murder itself. This is pulled off by a tremendous group effort, but most notably by Goldman, Attenborough, and of course young Hopkins.


Sean’s Take:

What I liked:

This will probably be the last time we’ll get to put on a horror movie from the Oscar-winning director of Gandhi (Richard Attenborough), written by the Oscar-winning writer of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (William Goldman) and starring Oscar-winner Anthony Hopkins (who is also a knight). Jerry Goldsmith composed the original score. He also has an Oscar.

This was a talent heavy production and it was a pleasure to watch as a result. Everyone does great work. As a viewer, it’s nice to know you’re going to be taken care of.

Ann-Margret, Burgess Meredith and Ed Lauter (who also appeared in The Town That Dreaded Sundown from yesterday) rounded out the cast and they were all doing a marvelous job of filling in the small-scale universe we are presented with. They also seemed to be having fun sinking their teeth into Goldman’s juicy script. There were a lot of tight-ropes to walk, emotionally, since Hopkins character has questionable sanity and all the actors were game to accommodate the intricacies of any given scene. Hopkins, in particular, did an amazing job of selling his ventriloquist dummy dependency.

A scene where Hopkins tries to prove to Meredith he can last five minutes without talking through his dummy, Fats, was a remarkable achievement in tension building. In fact, his whole dynamic with the dummy was hilarious, scary and, by the end, kind of beautiful. Hopkins was young and spry in this and it was great to see him tackle such an insane role with the wonderful precision we’ve come to expect from him.


What I didn’t like:

I liked most everything.

Final Thoughts:

Images of Hopkins being worked up into a frenzy by Fats will be the lasting images from this one. That, and Meredith smashing his glass cigar cases against the wall without regard.

A year ago today we watched James Wan’s ventriloquest horror entry Dead Silence and Magic was a very worthy successor to our new October 2nd tradition.




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