Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Magician

The Magician ~ This 1926 silent film is based on the 1908 novel by W. Somerset Maugham, which was in turn, based on the infamous Aleister Crowley. It was directed and adapted by Rex Ingram and starring his then-wife Alice Terry (The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and The Prisoner of Zenda). As presented on TCM’s Silent Sundays, this was a crisp clean print, something always important when dealing with the silents. It might be noted that while Ingram and Terry mentioned above had many films to their name, few survive.

A sculptress is nearly killed when her sculpture, a big scary thing, falls on her. A young surgeon miraculously saves her life and a romance blooms. Meanwhile Oliver Haddo, a magician/mad scientist played by German Paul Wegener, is seeking the means to create life. All Haddo needs is the blood of a virgin – and he sets his sights on the sculptress. The film rolls from there.

If the plot sounds a bit Frankenstein-ish, it is, and some of the imagery is reminiscent of that film, but remember, Universal’s Frankenstein is still six years away when The Magician was made. There are some quite horrific visuals here, right from the start, and especially one scene in Hell that rivals any in Haxan, complete with “Night on Bald Mountain” soundtrack. This proves that Hollywood was just as good at this kind of horror as Germany was, and they didn’t even need Lon Chaney for this one.

This rarely seen silent film is a classic and a must see. There are some gorgeous French locations (real or not, still stunning), great color tinting, an explosive ending and a wonderful score by Robert Israel. Recommended.

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