IMDB EntryMagic (1978)

Directed by Richard Attenborogh
Screenplay by William Goldman
Starring Anthony Hopkins, Ann-Margaret, Burgess Meredith

Like many movies I write about, Magic is badly named.  It's not about magic; it's about ventriloquism.  But that's a minor quibble about a neat little bit of psychological horror.

MagicThe plot is an old one, dating in films back at least to the 1920s:  the ventriloquist whose dummy takes on a life of its own.  Corky Withers (Anthony Hopkins), a failed magician, becomes a success on stage once he switches to ventriloquism.  His dummy, Fats, is nasty and cruel, but a big success.

But the success scares Corky.  You see, Fats seems to have a life of his own.  Is the dummy coming to life, or is it just Corky cracking up?  He goes off to try to figure it out, disappointing his agent (Burgess Meredith), but while there, ends up rekindling his relationship with his old high school sweetheart, Peggy Ann Snow (Ann-Margaret).  But it all leads to murder and retribution.

The talent involved makes this work.  This was one of Anthony Hopkins's first leading roles and he was quite a revelation at the time (of course, we all now know what he's capable of).  His Corky (and his doing the voice of Fats) is complex and surprising.

One of the nice things is that it's never completely clear whether Fats is really alive, or just a projection of Corky's split personality. The film cleverly avoids any clear-cut answer (though it does lean toward a non-supernatural explanation); when Corky is convinced that Fats is alive, you wonder whether he just might be right.

The script (and original novel) were by William Goldman, better known as the writer of Marathon Man and The Princess Bride and an Oscar winner for his screenplays of Butch Cassady and the Sundance Kid and All the President's Men. This one is often overlooked, but works very well.

11/18/07

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