Magic (1978)

Magic (1978), directed by Richard Attenborough.

Anthony Hopkins is an awkward and nervous stage magician who hits the big time when he develops an act with a foul-mouthed ventriloquist's dummy called "Fats". More confident now -- if still emotionally erratic -- he runs away to the Catskills where he may have a chance with his high school crush, Ann-Margret.

The problem: his act is so effective because the dummy represents a big part of his fractured psyche. Eventually it becomes the dominant personality, which isn't good for anyone.

I saw this in the theater but the only scene I remembered was with the great Burgess Meredith, playing the magician's agent. To his credit he sees his client is in trouble and wants to get him help. He challenges him to shutup "Fats" for five minutes, which of course cannot be done. It's tense.

This was marketed as a horror film, which I suspect left many in the audience dissatisfied. I was expecting some sort of supernaturally possessed devil-doll. Even when you take it as psychological horror you can't help scrutinizing that doll -- does it move by itself? -- to see if the filmmakers are playing fair.

In the film people want to believe in magic, just as I in the audience wanted to see a supernatural fantasy.

I was startled by the vicious things "Fats" says about Ann-Margret to her face: "sagging bitch of an ingenue" and "local town pump, terrific knockers".

Screenplay by William Goldman from his novel. With such a confluence of talent we expect something a bit more spectacular.

Score by Jerry Goldsmith. Photographed by Victor J. Kemper -- Coma (1978), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973), The Hospital (1971).

Available on Blu-ray from "Dark Sky Films / MPI". Heavy grain.