Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Movie Review: Magic (1978)

This was quite an interesting little movie! Magic was suggested to me by NetFlix and I'd never heard of it before, but it was actually a fabulous little surprise.

The first foul-mouthed ventriloquist dummy.
Anthony Hopkins plays Corky Withers (damn, what an unfortunate name, huh?) who starts out the movie as a struggling new magician. Later we see that after much practice, and adding a ventriloquist dummy to his schtick, he is soon going to become a big name. His agent tries to make a deal for a TV special, but Corky becomes strangely defensive, and he runs off to hide in a cabin in his hometown. There he meets up with a high school sweetheart (played by Ann-Margret), but a visit from her jealous husband and his agent finding his hiding spot only add to his mental deterioration as his dummy, Fats, starts to control his mind.

So after seeing Dead Silence a few years ago, one thing that I thought after the movie was, "Thanks. But I really did NOT need another reason to fear ventriloquist dummies." After Chucky and that one episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I've sort of had my fill of creepy little life-like dolls who mean me harm. So does it make me a masochist that I still wanted to watch this movie anyway? Anyway. Thankfully, and I hate to spoil the movie so soon in my review, but Fats the dummy is not the real danger here.

Same sweater, SAME MIND.
This more of a thriller dealing with the psychosis of one man. Corky has been successful in his endeavors as a magician/ventriloquist but somewhere along the way Fats became more and more a part of him. He speaks for him and says the things that Corky himself can't; when Corky gets in trouble, it is Fats that deals with the situation and tells him what to do. But what is Corky's real issue? In the beginning scene, he completely flops when he first goes on stage to perform magic at a club. When he ruins his chance for a TV special with NBC, he and his agent, Ben Greene (whom he calls Gangrene) claim that he might have a fear of success - as Gangrene has seen happen to his other stars before. But later in the movie it becomes apparent that it is really Corky's fear of failure that haunts his mind.

There is a great scene where Corky's agent comes to see him and walks in on him arguing with Fats. He sees that Corky leans on and perhaps has a very unhealthy attachment to Fats and asks him if he can make Fats shut up for five minutes. Corky can't do it. His reliance on his dummy is the outward expression of how he feels about himself and what he thinks he is capable of, both professionally and personally. The failure that he fears so much perhaps has nothing to do with his career as a magician, but in who he is as a man and how he relates to people. He's stumbled on this great relationship with a human he used to love, and yet he can't seem to fully commit to her. Fats keeps coming between them.

The always beautiful Ann-Margret.
The film did get a little confusing at times because, and perhaps this was an attempt at misdirection by the filmmakers, there were times when Corky would talk to or argue with Fats and his mouth or throat wouldn't move, as it would if he was performing. It actually took me a bit to see that he wasn't talking for Fats, but rather hearing his voice in his head. But it was a good ploy into making us think that Fats was really alive.

Anthony Hopkins is actually quite charming in this role and it is sort of a look into the future to his portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs He plays Corky with equal parts innocence and disturbed individual. He also supplied his voice talents to Fats, giving him a high-pitched squeaky voice that is both funny and scary, especially when Fats is saying not so nice things. Ann-Margret as Corky's old crush Peg also gives a believable and likable performance, and surprisingly even shows off that famous beautiful body of hers (read: you see nipple!). I did not expect that out of her! I even liked the actor playing the husband she doesn't love anymore, Duke. However, he is completely different in appearance and personality than Hopkins' character, so it's easy to see how she could fall for Corky so fast. Duke is the scruffy, hard-drinking outdoorsman, and Corky, well, he's got the accent going for him. That always wins over the ladies.

The film was directed by Richard Attenborough, who I only knew as John Hammond from Jurassic Park, and the screenplay was written by none other than William Goldman, adapted from his own book. We don't even need to talk about how badass Goldman is. He rules, and you know it. I believe this is the first film from Attenborough I've seen, and I wasn't disappointed. The lighting and shot composition were spot on, and the pacing of the film never falters. He keeps the tension high, and you never know just what Corky (or Fats) is going to do or exactly how the story will develop.

Magic is a nice creepy film with great performances from the main players, especially Hopkins. A different sort of movie, but I'd say it was an excellent find! 


  1. I just love Hopkins, he can do just about anything, and is certainly my favourite actor. Your right with this movies, it's a little gem

  2. Yup, great movie. Hopkins is the man here. Love Burgess Meredith in this one, too. *thumbs up*