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The Magician (1926) On Tonight! TCM and World Television Debut!

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I finally saw The Magician. I think Crowley would have been flattered by Wegener's demonic, determined performance but he also would have been disgusted that the character was explained away as a mere mental patient towards the end of the film.


I liked The Magician very much; to me it is clear that it had a profound influence on Dracula, Frankenstein and White Zombie in terms of certain details, situations and atmosphere; it is a seminal horror film, even though it is unclear whether Ingram et al meant it to be a horror film -- imdb lists it as "Drama - Fantasy - Romance." Alice Terry's performance manages to be both melodramatic and minimal at the same time; not the best combination of elements but it didn't bother me. It was helpful to have seen White Zombie as many times as I have -- Madge Bellamy simply does a better job of maintaining an aura of being under hypnosis. Wegener was as monolithic as I expected him to be, but he is playing a monster -- albeit in human form -- and that's kind of what the role needs. The set dressing and incidental detail was as good as anything I've seen in Ingram, which is very good.


This movie, though, looks as though it's had its heart cut out of it, much as Wegener's character wanted to do with Alice Terry. There are a number of ragged cuts that suggest some rearrangement of scenes and at least one shot appears to be an out-take; Ivan Petrovich gets a little tripped up simply walking away down a corridor, the sort of thing that gets reshot or left out as a matter of routine. Likewise there is a lengthy title that covers Dr. Burdon's search for Haddo and Dauncey from Paris to Monte Carlo; I'll bet you all of that was shot, and that what we see is merely the end to the search. We also didn't see Haddo's alleged marriage to Dauncey -- certainly Ingram would have shot that unless the party totally ran out of money. That their shoot in Nice lasted seven months suggests otherwise.


My theory -- and if there is confirmation of this, I haven't encountered it -- is that Ingram submitted the finished film at his usual length of 120+ minutes and that MGM trimmed it down to 83. The treatment of Von Stroheim's Greed of course comes to mind, but it suggests that at least at MGM the idea of producers trimming to improve the pace of a film was evolutionary; they would get better at it later, but somehow in the 20s the idea of pulling out whole scenes, eliminating characters and disrupting the narrative flow seemed acceptable. It's just a pity that the films on which MGM was learning the process happened to be silent masterpieces that we cannot get back into an original form.


Nevertheless, the visual style and subject matter of The Magician connects Rex Ingram to Tod Browning, Victor Halperin and yes, James Whale; something I wouldn't have thought of at all without seeing it. That, combined with the fact that my 16-year-old daughter said it was "totally cool" seems to indicate that The Magician needs not to be as obscure as it is. I liked the score too; some predictable quotations were used, but they worked and it fit well with the film. Thanks TCM for bringing this one out of the mothballs!




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