Quick Hit: A young Anthony Hopkins carries this story of madness, ventriloquism, and love.
I mentioned in my overly gushy Goosebumps post how much Slappy comes to mind when I think of killer ventriloquist dummies. As an amateur ventriloquist, I both loathe and embrace this interpretation. Though the dummies can be scary, they can also bring a lot of joy to people when presented in the correct way – see Jeff Dunham. However, in William Goldman’s movie (and novel) Magic, we find ourselves presented with another dummy worth remembering – Fats.
This movie is wonderful, if a little dated (it came out in 1978). Anthony Hopkins is Corky Withers, a struggling magician who has the charisma inside of him to be a stage presence, but no good way to get it out. Fast forward a bit, and now Corky is a success, and about to land a television contract from his agent played by none other than Burgess Meredith. What changed? Corky discovered a new dimension to his act – Fats, a ventriloquist dummy who speaks fast, loud, and naughtily. After a brief odd plot exchange regarding a medical evaluation, Corky runs off to the Catskills where the love of his life Peg (Ann Margaret) is living in group of cabins.
The plot itself is not great, but it is completely buoyed up by the performances. Ann Margaret is extremely full of vulnerability, which is great contrasted on screen when compared to Hopkins. Corky is such an absolute loser that it’s a wonder he’s even made it this far in life. You almost expect him to have trouble ordering his own meals, so encompassing is his shyness. But despite this shyness, Corky has Hopkin’s innate magnetism. When you consider that Hopkins also voiced the character of Fats (I was excited when I found that out), it furthers his performance because the characters are so different.
The film, which is directed by Richard Attenborough – yes John Hammond from Jurassic Park – is actually really beautiful to look at. The characters are always presented in some type of light – sometimes blindingly so – one particular scene with Corky presents every single bead of sweat in a tableau of its own. Along with that, the setting within the Catskills allows for a dark and dusky look to surround a lot of the different scenes. Even when Corky and Peg’s husband go out on the lake, you’re surrounded by the beauty that is the set.
Speaking of Peg’s husband, Duke, he’s played by Ed Lauter, who I think many will recognize but few will place. He’s excellent here, somehow imbueing a character who is probably just meant to be a two dimensional woman beater into a tragic character. We actually feel bad for him, which in turn colors the way we look at Corky and Peg’s discretions. It changes the whole dynamic of the movie at an actual critical point, and the movie is actually better because of it.
Without diving too deeply into the psychosis that pervades this film, I have to say that it’s really fun trying to puzzle it out for a while before Goldman and Attenborough finally give up the ghost and let us figure it out. It’s not your typical horror film that we see today, where we are mainly scared by what we know is doing the scaring. Instead, we’re allowed to puzzle it out for ourselves. I’m giving Magic a “B”.
For more on this movie check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"