Magic (1978) – A Criminally Unknown Film starring Anthony Hopkins
I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about this week, until I viewed a film I had been meaning to watch for some time, and knew immediately that I wanted to tell you fine readers about it. That film is entitled “Magic” and it came out in the fall of 1978. It’s a film that you will scarcely hear about, and after viewing the film I’m baffled as to why. It’s just one of those movies that slips under the radar, that goes by unnoticed when it should be praised. Perhaps one reason is because Superman: The Movie came out just a short time after Magic did.
The film is a psychological suspense thriller directed beautifully by Richard Attenborough, who directed such films as A Bridge to Far, Gandhi, Cry Freedom, Chaplin and Shadowlands. He also welcomed us to Jurassic Park in Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster. He gives Magic a very strong underlying sense of unease. You can feel something slipping in the character of Corky Withers, played to stunning perfection by Anthony Hopkins, in one of his earliest roles showcasing his intense ability to rivet an audience. When Hopkins is on screen, you just can’t look away, it feels like a disservice to him. He was nominated for a Golden Globe and a BAFTA for this film. Gene Siskel ranked it as #9 in his best of the year list in 1978, and according to Wikipedia, the original trailer for this film was pulled off television because parents were complaining that it was giving their children nightmares.
I don’t want to spoil much of the premise, as I feel the best way to watch this movie is with a very limited knowledge of what happens, as I had going in. We open on Hopkins character, Corky Withers, a magician, seeing his act fail and everyone laugh at him. Just from this introduction alone, we can sense something is a little screwy. We cut to some time in the future, the film doesn’t really say, and Corky has gotten recognized for a very witty ventriloquist act, in which he throws his voice and does magic tricks with the assistance of his dummy, Fats, who Hopkins also controls AND voices.
For reasons I dare not divulge, Corky flees the city to find some seclusion, and goes to the town where he grew up, meeting an old crush from his school days. All the while, Fats is there, and Corky likes to talk with him… too much, and eventually, Fats starts to become more real than Corky ever imagined. That’s all I’m saying, I really want you to experience this film not knowing much, in fact, don’t even watch the trailers they give away too much as usual.
Watching this movie reminded me of a classic episode of The Twilight Zone, called “The Dummy” which also featured a ventriloquist with a few… issues. And that’s actually a great way to describe Magic, it’s essentially a 100 minute episode of The Twilight Zone, except considerably more intense and disturbing.
This is perhaps the best I have seen Anthony Hopkins, save his universally famous liver and fava bean eating Hannibal. He clearly learned his way around a card deck as we see him perform many awesome tricks and slight of hand moves. His work with the dummy is astounding, it’s like he’s really interacting with a real person. Which brings me to perhaps the main reason why this movie works. That friggin dummy. It’s essentially like Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, if that puppet had been unconvincing, the movie would not have worked. Here we have one of the most skin-crawlingly realistic characters that’s actually an inanimate object I’ve seen. Fats is funny, frightening and even a little tragic. Hopkins voice work here at first seemed silly but quickly grew freaky as heck.
The script was written by William Goldman, and adapted from his novel. Some of his writing credits include, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Stepford Wives, Marathon Man, All the President’s Men, The Princess Bride, Misery, A Few Good Men, Chaplin, Maverick and Dolores Claiborne. Can you believe the talent involved with this unknown film? How has this film slipped through the cracks? Upon doing some research, I discovered that the movie was never officially owned by a studio, until just recently. So it’s kind of been in a limbo for awhile.
If you have not seen or heard of Magic, I strongly suggest checking it out. It’s one of the best performances I’ve seen from Hopkins, and one of the most frightening films of the 70′s. I implore you to learn about this movie, it needs to be seen. 4/4 stars.
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