Magic (1978) Richard Attenborough

If ones idea of a horror film is a madman’s unrelenting attacks on young girls with plenty of blood and guts spilling out then “Magic” directed by Richard Attenborough will be sure to disappoint.  Screenwriter William Goldman and director Attenborough take a more serious, quiet and psychological approach to madness. The horror is in the terror of watching a personality crumble, split apart, ruining not only his life but others who he comes into contact with.

Corky Withers magic act is a flop until he hits on the idea of adding a ventriloquist dummy named Fats to his act. We first hear Fats voice heckling Corky from the rear of the audience, the wilder Fats responds the more the audience eats up the act. Corky is soon on the verge of signing a network TV contract thanks to his manager Ben Greene (Burgess Meredith) however, Corky is getting cold feet, or is it something else that will not make him sign the contract.  You see one of the stipulations of the contract is Corky must succumb to a “routine” psychical which he refuses to do. He instead flees to upstate New York where he grew up; there he comes upon Peggy Ann Snow (Ann-Margret), the woman of his dreams during his high school years, now the aging wife of philandering former ballplayer “Duke” (Ed Lauter) who is away on a hunting trip. They get reacquainted and soon fall into bed together.  They talk of packing up and leaving. Corky prefers to do this before old Duke comes home while Peggy feels somewhat obligated to inform Duke that she is leaving even though their marriage has been on the down side for some time.

 Corky’s breakdown continues to slide downhill as the film progresses with Fats seemingly taking over and being in charge. Fats face eerie becoming more demonic as the film progresses.  This leads to the death of Ben Greene when he shows up to take Corky back to the city and get him some psychiatric help.  There is an interesting scene just before Ben’s demise where he attempts to get Corky to put Fats down and make him not communicate via Fats for just five minutes. Corky tries to convince Ben, and himself, that this “experiment” is ridiculous but we see the tenseness and sweat building on Corky’s face as the minutes tick by. He cannot do it.   

One must keep in mind the horror in all in Corky’s head, this is no “Chucky” filled with voodoo rituals or a Zuni doll (1975 TVM Trilogy of Terror) coming to life with some nasty teeth. As I mentioned, the horror is all in Corky’s unstable mind.

A young Anthony Hopkins plays the personality challenged schizophrenic ventriloquist Corky, with a very charming Ann-Margret as his former high school crush, now an unhappily married woman. Hopkins also was the creepy piercing voice of Fats which was quite a contrast from the dull Corky.  Burgess Meredith as Ben Greene who unfortunately is killed off too early in the story also does a fine job. The film is aided by the fine eerie cinematography of Victor Kemper whose vision fits the cold winter air and the dark eerie atmosphere that prevails throughout the second half of the film and the music of Jerry Goldsmith. For director Richard Attenborough, this was a different type of project to tackle than what you would expect from the director of “Gandhi” and “Oh, What a Lovely War.”   

The idea of menacing ventriloquist dummies has been used before as far back as 1925 in the silent Tod Browning classic “The Unholy Three” with Lon Chaney, remade in 1930 as a talkie, again with Chaney in his final film, also in the excellent horror anthology film “Dead of Night” and again in one of the most memorable “Twilight Zone” episodes, “The Dummy.”,  In 1976, novelist and screenwriter William Goldman felt there was still some life in the story and wrote what would become a bestselling novel called “Magic.” Two years later 20th Century Fox released a film version from a screenplay by Goldman.  

“Magic” is not a great film but it seems to have fallen under the radar and should not be. Yes, there are some plot holes and it would not rank high on the “gore” meter still just look at the photo of Fats above and you have to admit that is one scary looking dummy.

***1/2

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Lenny (1974) Bob Fosse

 

Bob Fosse’s 1974 film “Lenny” based on Julian Beck’s Broadway play follows Lenny Bruce from his early days as a comic working in cheap strip club dives to his final years after being busted over and over again by the police for drug and obscenity charges. His last club performances consisted of him reading court documents from his trials. His brilliance as a social satirist lost somewhere in between.  

Attached here is a review I wrote  a couple of years over at Halo-17 ago on this interesting if uneven film. 

Here is  a short scene from “Lenny.”

Here is a taste of the real Lenny!

Each Dawn I Die (1939) William Keighley

It is Cagney versus Raft in the classic 1939 Warners prison drama EACH DAWN I DIE. Directed by William  Keighley, Cagney is Frank Ross an investigative reporter who exposes a political candidate’s corrupt association with a construction company. After the article is published,  Ross is snatched by some goons right in front of the newspaper building, knocked out, and soused with alcohol he is sent away in a speeding car which results in a car accident with three innocent people being killed. Framed for the murders, Ross is sent to prison where he meets big shot Stacey (George Raft). At first, they get off on the wrong foot with Ross continuing to claim he was framed and innocent, all falling on deaf ears with both prison officials and his fellow inmates. The two soon become pals when Ross saves Stacey’s life from an attempt by another prisoner to kill him.

The film has all the by now standard prison themes you expect, the innocent man who  was framed, the prisoner who is a snitch, the sadistic guard, the prison system that turns a good man bad, the prison break and the riot. It’s all there but what is most exciting is Cagney! Brash, cocky and full of himself, grinning confidently just the way we like him. Here he gets to face off against George Raft, who by the way hooked up with some real gangsters in his off-screen  life, and is even better known for giving Humphrey Bogart some of the best roles of his career when he turned down “Casablanca” and “High Sierra.” Raft is fine as Stacey but the film belongs to Cagney who goes through an entire array of emotions from a wronged innocent to a crazed bitter jail-bird locked up in solitary.       

The cast also includes George Bancroft as the Warden, Victor Jory as a corrupt member of the parole board, Jane Bryant as Cagney’s loyal girlfriend fighting for his release and former boxer Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom. This is the kind of film you expect from Warner Brothers, hard-hitting, socially conscience and gritty.

***1/2 

 

Vice Squad (1953) Arnold Laven

This is a reprint of a short review from my Weekly Wrap column that I have been doing over at  the “Watching Shadows on the Wall” blog, which frankly does not get much traffic. Susequently, I thought I would repost some of the short reviews I have written over there that fit into the scope of 24frames.

 

Vice Squad – Arnold Laven (***) standard cops and criminal “B” film. Made in 1953, it is the kind of routine movie that the advent of television killed off. Edward G. Robinson past his heydays but still big enough to command the lead in this kind of film stars as a police captain who does not mind bending the law if it means capturing two cop killers. Co-starring is the beautiful Paulette Goddard as  madam  who helps police Captain Robinson out. Though she received second billing her role is essentially a cameo. The cast is filled with some good character actors including Porter Hall as the funeral director and Lee Van Cleef as one of the cop killers ( I don’t think I am giving anything away here. A decent script by Lawrence Roman, with some exceptional dialogue between Robinson and Goddard, and some excellent shadowy photography by Joseph Biroc who worked with Sam Fuller a few times in the 1950’s. Definitely worth a look for those who like crime films from this period.

A Life At The Movies: Dan & Toby Talbot,The New Yorker & Other Scenes in The Dark

In the 1960’s and early 1970’s The New Yorker theater was THE repertory theater in New York City. Located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the New Yorker was a haven for film lovers. Patrons included Peter Bogdanovich who lived in the neighborhood. At eighteen years of age the ever forward Bodganovich asked for a job writing program notes. The theater became a temple for cinephiles, Vincent Canby, Jonas Mekas, Andrew Sarris, Stanley Kauffman, Manny Farber, photographers Diane Arbus and Richard Avedon were among the devotees. Early films included Von Strohiem’s “Foolish Wives” and “Nanook of the North” with live piano accompaniment. Foreign films from Godard, Truffaut, Rohmer, Chabrol were programmed as well as Hollywood directors like Hitchcock, Ford, Fuller, Hawks and Welles. Classic films with W.C. Fields, The Marx Brothers, Mae West, and Bogart were audience favorites.   

Toby Talbot’s book “The New Yorker Theater” is an interesting though somewhat rambling account of the Talbot’s adventures in running The New Yorker and other theaters (Cinema Studio and the current Lincoln Plaza Cinemas).

Dan Talbot founded New Yorker Films as a means to acquire foreign film titles to show at The New Yorker. His first acquisition was Bernardo Bertolucci’s “Before the Revolution.” He would soon after acquire the distribution rights to more than 400 other films including Godard’s “Breathless.”  

After the closing of the New Yorker, the Talbot’s opened up the Cinema Studio in 1977, located on 66th Street and Broadway (a Barnes & Noble is now there). The Talbot’s premiered such foreign films like “An American Friend”, “Perceval”, “The Marriage of Maria Braun” and “Shoah”. In 1981, the Talbots opened the current Lincoln Plaza Cinema on 63rd Street and Broadway continuing their tradition of introducing International and First Run Independent Cinema.

Below is an interview with Toby and Dan Talbot at The New School. 

Haunted Gold (1932) Mack V. Wright

During the opening credits a bat is seen flying across the screen. We find ourselves in a dark eerie deserted town filled with slamming doors and strange howls in the night. Joe Ryan and his gang are playing poker in the dark, waiting for the return of Ed, one of their own from the Sally Ann mine. He left hours ago and there has been no sign of him since. Suddenly Ed’s horse returns with a note attached warning the same fate is waiting for anyone else who dares to enter the Sally Ann mine. The men are spooked to say the least.

What starts out as a seemingly old dark house spook fest is in fact a John Wayne western, and after this slick and unique opening, gradually slides back into the standard western of its day.   “Haunted Gold” is a remake of a 1928 silent called “The Phantom City”  that starred Ken Maynard. This low budget remake is even filled with stock footage from earlier Maynard silent westerns.

Wayne is John Mason, a high voiced rancher who comes to the ghost town to take a look at the abandon mine, half of which was left to him by his father. Along with Mason is his sidekick Clarence (Blue Washington Brown).  Mason discovers Ryan is now the other half owner of the mine having cheated the rightful owner, Bill Carter,  out of his share. Also on hand is pretty young Janet Carter (Sheila Terry), the daughter of the cheated owner. She like Mason received a mysterious note requesting their presence by someone only known as the phantom, a mysterious figure whose eyes we see peering through peepholes throughout the film.

After this fairly interesting beginning the film turns into a standard western. Ryan and his boys want the gold that is in the mine somewhere.  Janet will find herself in danger, tied up deep inside the mineshaft. Good guy John Wayne, err I mean John Mason comes to her rescue only to be caught and tied up by Ryan and his boys. Duke, that’s Mason’s horse, returns rider less to the ranch and rounds up the ranch hands to come and help Mason but of course by the time they arrive,  Duke, that is John Wayne not the horse, has everything under control with the help of his stumbling partner Clarence. And of course he wins the girl heart in the end.

The most interesting aspect of this film is that the cinematographer is the great Nick Musuraca and his talent is used to great display in some of the eerie scenes that take place in the dark spooky ghost town  during the early scenes in the film. Unfortunately the rest of the film is handicapped by  mediocre acting, (Wayne has yet to develop his screen persona), a lame story and a disturbing light hearted racist attitude toward character actor Blue Washington Brown who plays Clarence.  Brown who seems like a talented actor is handicapped by the cultural stupidity of the times forced to play foolish characters with little intelligence, act scared and quote stereotypical  dialogue for laughs. One has to remember that this was just a reflection of the times in which the film was made and while not acceptable by today’s standards, understandable for the period in which it was made.

Directed by Mack V. Wright who made a few films together with Wayne and Duke, the horse during these early years including “Somewhere in Sonora” and “The Man From Monterey.” Wright’s career was mainly in low budget filmmaking. He also worked with other western stars like Gene Autry (The Singing Cowboy, Comin’ Round The Mountain) and Robert Livingston (Riders of the Whistling Skull, The Vigilantes  Are Coming).

**

Announcement

Just to let everyone know I will have no access to a PC for the next eight days or so. I am taking a short vacation and should be back on-line around the middle of next week. That said, I do have scheduled a couple of new postings coming up so please continue to stop by. I just will not be able to respond to any comments that are left until I am back on-line.