David Ogden Stiers
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10th Sep 06
Successful ventriloquist Anthony Hopkins officially looses the plot when Fats, his dummy, takes over.
Here it is, folks. If you want genuinely well-crafted 70's horror at its best, then let Magic weave its eerie spell for 107 perfect minutes. The films of Richard Attenborough don't exactly get a lot of mention here at eatmybrains.com but I think its safe to say that had he played with the genre more often then he would be up there with the likes of Carpenter, Romero, Cronenberg et al. Boasting a professional polish that eclipses much of what we review in these pages, Magic is masterful in just about every aspect. The presence of a young Hopkins speaks for itself, and the fact that he learned ventriloquism and assorted magic tricks in preparation for the part, is characteristic of his heavyweight acting stature. Whereas many real-life ventriloquists struggle to make their sidekick sound significantly different from their own natural voices, Hopkins has that one clear advantage - Corky and Fats sound like two different people, and you'll believe that's exactly what they are.
As the film opens, Corky fails as a conventional card-wielding magician, so he invents Fats to make his stage show that little bit more special. The duo begin to make serious on the local club circuit, which is when entertainment guru Ben Greene (Burgess Meredith) steps in to rocket the act to international fame. Corky, however, is hesitant. He refuses a medical examination and retreats upstate to where he grew up. Taking up temporary residence in a remote lake-side house, he re-sparks with his teenage love, Peggy Ann (Ann-Margret) but when Duke (Ed Lauter), her husband returns home after a work trip, things begin to get messy and the Corky-Fats relationship takes on a very dangerous life of its own.
You'll believe Fats is real. You'll also accept that Corky is schizophrenic, but it's easier to believe that the creepy dummy is a living, breathing being. Made out of wood. The dialogue interplay between Corky and Fats is relentlessly exact and increasingly disarming; William Goldman's superior screenplay is just one of the many key ingredients making Magic the transcendent - if a little underrated - horror classic that it is today. And Hopkins, well he's the real deal. We all know that. But forget about Hannibal Lecter because this is where he really gets to riff it up, with a level of intensity and genuine pathos that will leave you in awe of his plight. He is, of course, more than ably helped by a superb supporting cast, most notably the legend that is Burgess Meredith as Corky's agent, Ben. Meredith is on fire in the role, his witty, bouncing dialogue and classic lines ("That's why they call me the postman - I always deliver."), acting as an exquisite dramatic counterpoint to the Corky-Fats interplay. Meredith really gets to flex his stuff here, providing one key scene in particular with his unique flair when he catches Corky and Fats having a domestic argument, "How long you been like this, kid?"
Part of what makes Magic work is its credibility; a horror thriller that is simply too well made to be critically snubbed as just another horror film. There are various factors setting it apart from the rest - one is that, above all else, it is extraordinarily well acted (and in Hopkins' case, thoroughly researched), and another is that there is virtually no blood. It doesn't need to be gory or violent because its dramatic vigour will suck you into every scene without question and just when you think everything may be ok, you'll see Fats, looking right at you. Fats, by the way, is the scariest dummy you're ever likely to see. Those eyes are far too big.
Jerry Goldsmith's creepy soundtrack is yet another vital element that, along with consummate, subtle cinematography and Attenborough's assured direction, plucks the strings to make this symphony of fear ring out with a resonance which sets it apart from just about anything else you've watched this week.
Dark Sky Films have done justice to this masterwork with a gorgeous anomorphic widescreen transfer and a host of insightful extras including a documentary about the art of ventriloquism, an interview with cinematographer Victor J. Kemper, an on-set Hopkins interview, and more. Just buy it. Now.
Versions The two-disc MAGIC (cert. 15) was released on DVD by Anchor Bay UK on 21st August 2006.
Disc One Feature presentation (widescreen); Dolby Stereo 2.0; optional Dolby Surround 5.1; DTS; scene selection.
Disc Two "Screenwriting For Dummies" featurette; "Fats And Friends" featurette; interview with cinematographer Victor J. Kemper; interview with Anthony Hopkins; Anthony Hopkins radio interview; English and Spanish radio spots; English and Spanish TV spots; English trailers; stills gallery; Ann-Margret makeup test.