Magic (1978) – By Jonathon Pernisek

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 clich├ęd 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.