• Magic

    Released by: Dark Sky Films
    Released on: 4/25/2006
    Director: Richard Attenborough
    Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Burgess Meredith, Ann Margret, Ed Lauter
    Year: 1978
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    The Movie:

    Dolls are creepy. It’s a fact. Talking dolls are even creepier. This is also a fact. Those two facts are what makes Magic, Richard Attenborough’s 1978 horror movie starring Sir Anthony Hopkins, Ann Margret and Burgess Meredith, work as well as it does.

    Corky (Hopkins of Silence of The Lambs) – no, not from Life Goes On, this is a different Corky – is a pretty shoddy ventriloquist who tries to make a living as a nightclub entertainer with his puppet, Fats. Ben, his agent (Burgess Meredith of Rocky), offers him a spot on a TV show and things start to look up for him until he turns it down when he doesn’t want to have to get a medical examination and from here, he more or less goes into hiding. He heads back to his small hometown to kind of get his head together and he shacks up in a spotty little hotel run by Peggy (Ann Margret of Viva Las Vegas), who he knows from highschool. Corky always had a crush on the pretty girl but was always too shy to ask her out – as an adult, that’s all changed and the two quickly become intimate after their reunion.

    The catch to all of this new found luck in love is that it isn’t so much Corky’s personality that has won the lady over, but Fats’. More and more Corky is starting to act like his raunchy puppet friend and when his manager finally tracks him down, that proves to be a very bad thing indeed. When Peggy’s husband (Ed Lauter of Death Wish III) comes around to see what his wife has been up to all this time, it gets even worse…

    Completely predictable and more than a little dated, Magic is never the less an eerie little movie with a fantastic cast and some great direction from Lord Richard Attenborough, the same man who helmed A Bridge Too Far and Ghandi. The script, from William Goldman (which was based on his novel of the same name) who also wrote All The President’s Men and also A Bridge Too Far, emphasizes the psychological aspects of the story rather than the murders or the more shocking aspects but it works, even if we know pretty early on where it’s all going. Goldman does manage to work in a couple of little surprise twists here and there but the strength here is in Fats’ character and his dialogue, which is the highpoint and creepiest aspect of the movie.

    Hopkins, who plays Corky and also does the voice of Fats, is as solid as you’d expect him to be here and when he’s on screen with Ann Margret you can almost believe the chemistry that they find together, even if it isn’t Corky who has really won her over. Meredith more or less plays the same kind of crotchity character he was best known for but he’s good as well and does a fine job with the material.


    Dark Sky Films gives Magic a very nice 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that does justice to the framing and compositions and that presents the film in very nice shape indeed. Color reproduction is strong, black levels stay consistent and deep, and there’s a nice level of both foreground and background detail present in the image. There is some aliasing and some edge enhancement in a few spots but it isn’t overpowering and for the most part the picture stays sharp, clean, and clear. Some mild to moderate film grain and some print damage in the form of the odd speck here and there creep up, but again, it’s never a problem, just part and parcel for older genre films most of the time. Magic looks really good.

    The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono soundtrack is fine – it’s free of any hiss or distortion and while sometimes the range sounds a little bit limited, you won’t ever have a problem understanding the performers or their dialogue. Background music and sound effects are properly balanced and things sound pretty good on this DVD. No subtitles or alternate language tracks are included.

    Dark Sky rolls out the red carpet for Magic, starting things off with a twenty-five minute long documentary entitled Fats And Friends, directed by David Gregory (he of Blue Underground fame, the same guy behind IFC’s The Spaghetti West). The piece starts off by giving us a crash course in the history of ventriloquist films, before spending some quality time with one Daniel Alwood, a ventriloquist by trade and the man who designed Fats for the film. He doesn’t fly solo for his interview though, Fats is there, sitting on his knee and chiming in when he can, which is a nice touch. Alwood talks about working on the film and with Hopkins and Attenborough, and he also does a nice job of filling us in on the movie that might have been by revealing some interesting choices for a few particpants who opted out of the project before the cast we all know and love were signed on to bring it to completion.

    Cinematographer extraordinaire Victor Kemper is up next as he’s the recipient of a twelve minute video interview in which he talks about certain shot set ups, lighting, composition and the overall mood that he helped create for the finished version of the film. Though it might alienate those not interested in the technical side of movie making, for those of us who do appreciate such things this proves to be a very interesting and maybe a little brief look at how a cinematographer works on a set.

    Lest you think that Hopkins was ignored for this release, think again as a vintage radio interview with him, long before he was the Oscar winning titan he is these days, is included that plays out overtop of a reel of bloopers and outtakes that weren’t used in the film. He talks about his role, working with the puppet, and gives us a general overall feeling for his work on the film. There’s also a rather odd clip from a television show from the period in which Hopkins is interviewed by someone speaking Spanish – he looks a little confused by tries to communicate his take on the movie as best he can.

    Ann Margret’s make up test, which only lasts a few minutes and is silent, is also included as is a really nice still gallery of promotional art, pre-production shots and behind the scenes photographs. In terms of promo spots, there’s a nice selection of those included here as well. First up is the theatrical trailer, followed by radio spots in both English and Spanish as well as a Spanish television commerical, and last but not least, also included is the excellent English television advertisement for the film in which Fats reads his famous poem.

    The Final Word:

    Magic succeeds as a nice blend of dark humor and creepy weird talking doll scares. Hopkins is good in the lead and the presence of Margret and Meredith is a welcome addition to what is, at its core, a well made and creepy little movie that’s been given an excellent presentation on DVD.
    Comments 1 Comment
    1. John Gargo's Avatar
      John Gargo -
      It's funny, I just watched this on blu-ray! I agree with you that the film works wonderfully despite the fact that the story unfolds in a predictable manner, but then the film is really about madness. It also seems very funny to me that Attenborough directed this between two prestigious "epic" films (Gandhi and A Bridge Too Far).