BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE MAGICIAN

By • Jan 6th, 2013 •

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Rex Ingram was a flamboyant director of the silent era, who distanced himself from the Hollywood system to achieve more autonomy in his projects. Michael Powell (director of THE RED SHOES and TALES OF HOFFMANN), who apprenticed under Ingram, 1st AD-ing this project, worshipped the director – as is detailed in his autobiography – and the director worshipped Alice Terry, his wife, who he starred in many of his productions, including this one.

Paul Wegener, the stand-out cast member here, has a unique look one just cannot forget. He is most remembered today for essaying the direction and titular role in THE GOLEM (1920), making the image of the clay avenger of the Jews his own. Here he plays Haddo, half-doctor, half-alchemist, who has discovered a secret formula for creating life. The recipe requires the ‘heart-blood of a maiden (aka virgin)’, and Haddo sets his mesmeric sites on sculptress Alice Terry, spiriting her away to his mountain lair.

The first act is somewhat straight-forward, setting us up for the sudden shock of an impromptu visit to Hades. After that, it’s no holds barred, as the hero (Petrovich) desperately tries to rescue his fiancé before the magician sacrifices her.

The DVD credits indicate that original music was composed by Robert Israel, but all I kept hearing were the many cues lifted verbatim from Edgar Ulmer’s THE BLACK CAT (’34), which, in turn, had been adroitly lifted from pre-existing classical compositions. THE BLACK CAT was truly unusual in 1934 for its extensive use of background music. The lifts are nicely laid in here, and there are legitimate comparisons thematically between the two films – Wegener and Boris Karloff’s characters both admittedly having been based on occultist Aleister Crowley. But I couldn’t help comparing the final fight scene between Wegener and Ivan Petrovich with the similar climactic slapdown between Bela Lugosi and Karloff, since the music is exactly the same in both films. Wegener and Petrovich versus Karloff and Lugosi. Really….?

Wegener is such a visually compelling guy, with his large face and equally imposing body. I suspect he enjoyed life in much the same way that Gerard Depardieu does. Ms. Terry, good in her role, is vulnerable to the camera’s temperament: sometimes she looks quite lovely, but in other shots she looks a tad matronly.

The print is in very good condition, and the light color tinting doesn’t obscure any of the expressionist eye-candy sets. There’s a laboratory-aerie in act three which really brings to mind the vertical lab in Universal’s BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. In a few of the money scenes – such as the hell-fantasy – there are little jump cuts where frames have been lost, possibly removed by projectionists over the years for their private collections. The straight dramatic scenes suffer no such snipping, which is telling.

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