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Magic

When you’re on the hunt for something special you oftentimes stumble upon a film you didn’t even know existed. Magic seemed to be a video from another dimension, with dusty packaging and the faces of Anthony Hopkins and a grotesque ventriloquist dummy gracing the cover. Since the night wouldn’t be complete without a film we thought might be terrible, my b-movie loving friends and I swiped it from the shelf and shambled back to an apartment ready for anything.

Much to our surprise, Magic was not essentially terrible or good, but rather sat somewhere in-between. The premise is actually pretty interesting, following a neurotic magician named Corky (Hopkins) who only gains success after adding a foul-mouthed dummy to his act. The dummy, which is called Fats, eventually becomes more powerful than Corky, leading to a struggle for the man’s very sanity. Some genuinely creepy moments came out of this story, mainly because Hopkins turns in a great double performance. Corky never seems like a Norman Bates knock-off but rather a clever mixture of addict and lost soul, while Fats is genuinely menacing.

There is a lot of talent involved in this film, which was directed by Richard Attenborough. Ann-Margaret plays Peggy Ann Snow, who while having one of the cheesiest names in a script (besides Corky, of course) acts as the film’s love interest. She’s saddled with the worst dialogue, including this gem of a line delivered after Corky’s big Professing My Love monologue: “Well, aren’t you ever summin’!” It’s truly a laugh-out-loud line, and I’m sorry the poor woman had to say it out loud.

Finally there’s Burgess Meredith, who you might remember from such classic films as Santa Claus: The Movie and G.I. Joe: The Movie. Here he portrays a grizzled old talent agent named Ben who manages Corky. Ben is excited about Corky getting a large contract with NBC, but when his client runs off at the mention of a mental evaluation everything goes to pot. It is Ben who first realizes Corky is losing his personality to that of Fats, so in one of the best scenes he asks him to not speak through the dummy for a full five minutes. Tension courses through the next stretch, with Hopkins squirming nervously and Meredith coldly staring and dragging on a cigar.

As I mentioned before, one of the movie’s problems is its tendency to lean toward goofy dialogue. Many scenes seem to be in the film solely for the purpose of exposition, such as the one where Ben explains every detail of Corky’s career to an executive from NBC. There’s also the moment where Peggy Ann looks deeply into Corky’s eyes and says, “If I’m the prize, you’re the winner.” Man, am I reading a paperback romance novel watching a movie here?

The other issue I had with this film was its style choice concerning time. It has the habit of hinting at what might happen in the future and then immediately jumping to the point where such an event is happening. It’s jarring, to say the least. One minute Ben is saying, “You’ll know you’ve made it in show business when I buy you lunch at the Four Seasons,” and then we’re thrown into a scene at the Four Seasons. As much as I hate to say this, it probably would have been useful to use those clichéd title cards so as to better help the audience make the transition.

Magic is not nearly as bad as some of the other movies I’ve watched in my short time on Earth, but it does have some nice moments a collector of junk can appreciate. It’s also a nice time capsule for a lot of big talent, so if you’re a Hopkins fan I’d recommend checking this early project of his out. It’s no Silence of the Lambs, but you’ll be able to see the seeds of that performance being planted.

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