FILMS… Magic (1978)



Anthony Hopkins has a hand in a horror…


A loner makes it big as a magician with a ventriloquist twist hits the big time but he hides out in his home town when he’s asked to take a medical.


Magic 1978 -Trailer, Horrorama Movie Trailers and photos ©  20th Century Fox


When you are wee, there are certain bits of TV Shows and films that you find are etched in your memory years later. In film, it’s always the ending to International Velvet (1978) and the romantic leads first meeting in Somewhere in Time (1980) and more than a few more.

For me the memorable TV Show moments are, of course, mainly Dallas (1978-91) themed be it JR Ewing’s shooting in 1980. Or his brother Bobby’s reconciliation with ex-wife Pam – just before his sister in law Katharine Wentworth mowed him down – leading to what would be the infamous dream season.

Magic (1978) however was a film with a trailer – or preview – that I remember more than vividly, the film not at all. This makes me assume I was either too wee to watch it when it was on Scottish telly or it was past my bedtime. So join me now for the exorcism of those memories with Anthony Hopkins, for the film with that trailer that haunted me, and scared me as a kid.

The film has many mesmerising behind and in front of the camera big names. Richard Attenborough directed the film with Jerry Goldsmith writing the score. Both Magic‘s story and screenplay were written by William Goldman.

Goldman is the man behind as diverse films as The Marathon Man (1976) a chilling 70s film and Chaplin (1992), the comedian’s (loosely based on fact) biopic. The Magic acting cast is a small one, headed by Anthony Hopkins in a leading role as both the shy timid magician and ventriloquist, Corky and his outrageous dummy, Fats.

The story begins with the shy, timid Corky (Hopkins) nursing his mentor Merlin (E J Andre), a stage magician who is sofa ridden with the lurgy. Merlin has encouraged the awkward, nervy and unconfident Corky to enter a club’s talent competition – in his solo stage debut – with his magician act.

Although Corky tells the old man it went well (as seen in flashback), Merlin knows he’s lying and the truth is then revealed. Corky tells how he lost his temper with the half empty club for not supporting him in his act. He’s encouraged to find a gimmick, from the old man before he dies.

Forward a year and Corky returns to this club and there are queues a mile long to see him. His agent Ben (Burgess Meredith) has invited Hudson (David Ogden Stiers) from the telly to watch Corky’s act. Corky now appears to be a successful and confident magician.

After being heckled by a loudmouthed, obnoxious and crude man in the audience, he now responds confidently by confronting the man behind the voice. Then Corky returns on stage revealing himself as also a ventriloquist with that voice from his dummy, Fats.

The TV executive is captivated and enjoys Corky’s double act,  telling his agent that he’s offering Corky a TV pilot. Hearing this Corky insists on a contract without the compulsory medical saying it’s a “deal-breaker”.

However, Corky flees taking Fats with him and returns to his Catskills home town from Manhattan by taxi. There it appears Corky is alone in the world, as he remembers a funeral. He rents a wee cottage by the lake and offers to pay 50 dollars a night, as it’s out of season.

It’s revealed that the cottage owner, is the girl Corky loved at high school, Peggy Ann (Ann Margret) and her husband, Duke. Duke is Corky’s high school acquaintance, Duke her high school love.  Duke (Ed Lauter) is away on business. In time she reveals how unhappy she is in their relationship citing his affairs and more.

Corky introduces her to Fats, and despite his dummy’s “personality” – which is so strikingly opposite to Corky – she warms to them both. Corky and Peggy bond, and share their life stories with Corky telling her he left his successful stage career because he was afraid of success.

He tells her of how he loved her at school and still does, she’s now sad that he never acted on it. There’s cautious romantic chemistry between them despite their immediate rapport and attraction. Corky tentatively shares a magic trick with her that he was taught by Merlin, and fails.

You feel his frustration at failing, as he sweats and appears annoyed with himself. Corky tells how Merlin had successfully carried this out with his wife, the love of his life. After he repeats his trick with Peggy, he finds a card she chose in a deck of cards.

The two lonely people connect with each other. They kiss and make love, then commence an affair. He asks her to leave Duke… she says she will think about it. However, it’s clear that Fats isn’t happy about this romance and Corky appears to hear his dummy’s angry voice.

The dummy is quite jealous of Corky and Peg’s burgeoning relationship. He brings Corky’s mood down, ridicules him and is derogatory towards Peggy. This is seen in contrast to Corky’s sweet and hopeful feelings for his future with Peggy.

Ben (the agent) tracks Corky down and arrives at the resort in his Rolls Royce car. He detects his client has lost control, hearing Corky’s voice and his dummy’s voices shout and argue with each other. Ben insists that Corky returns to Manhattan to get support for his poor mental health, which has deteriorated.

Again we see the contrasting feelings between Corky and Fats. This time directed towards Ben. With Corky appearing at his most frightened and defensive and Fat’s voice destructively dismissing Ben’s concerns. It’s unclear if Fats’ speeches are the thoughts (and later actions) that Corky is thinking and is too timid to say.

Ben leaves to get the help that Corky needs so desperately. Fats’ voice instructs Corky to kill his agent by using Fats as a bludgeon. Then the dummy’s voice tells him how to get rid of the dead body.

Corky complies with Fats, with him later seen nursing and cleaning the bloodied dummy. Corky then takes Ben’s battered body into the lake.. where Ben regains consciousness. Meanwhile, Peggy’s husband Duke has returned and suspects she is sleeping with Corky…

The film was wonderfully acted by this small cast, all with a crucial part in this romantic and psychological horror. I loved this film’s originality as Goldman’s script pulls you in. This is initially done by building up a romance story of a reunion of a vulnerable man and the girl he once loved.

In small foreshadowing moments, you realise Corky, although a shy character has a quick temper under stress. There appears to be something he’s hiding from his agent. At the start, it’s seen him talking with the dummy and replying as the dummy “speaking” in a squeaky voice.

After his mentor’s death, he initially hears his dummy talking to him as a friend. In time, Fats’ voice increases and his evil views are seen in conflict with Corky’s positive thoughts and experiences. Fats’ voice puts Corky down and undermines his confidence.

Fats challenges those warm thoughts for people Corky holds dear. Be it Ben – who feels Corky needs to return home to get help for his apparent mental health decline – or Peggy, the girl he loves. Fats hurts Corky by challenging their loving feelings.

The resentment and the presence of the voice of the dummy build up. More eerily in later scenes, the dummy’s mouth is not seen to move. This is in the apparent possible psychosis with him hearing this voice which affects him deeply. These chilling scenes where Fats’ voice controls Corky and his actions increase as the film progresses. The horror unfolds unsettling you as the story continues, a stark contrast to the romance.

I adored the direction from Attenborough as a shot shows night gradually becoming day, a montage is shown without words, the use of sparing yet effective flashbacks and his positioning of Fats in those scenes with Hopkins.

The presence of the dummy seen in their joint key scenes often has Hopkins in the foreground – with the dummy in the same scene reminded us how much the dummy was still present in his thoughts and actions. With not just his voice an eerie reminder.

This was seen as its creepiest as Corky moves Ben’s battered body to the lake in the dark, where we see the dummy looking out the illuminated window of the cottage, just smiling. I wondered if Fats’ presence was also reflected in Goldsmith’s score. Goldsmith added a small jarring piece of music played on an accordion (representing Fats?) and added to the remaining score (the remaining cast).

The dummy’s presence in scenes added to the general sense of foreboding and unease, especially those times when his mouth was not seen to move. Also visually unsettling was Corky’s wardrobe which was in time mirrored exactly by Fats. This is also seen as the pair are seen in more similar looking clothes and then wearing exactly the same, as the dummy’s thoughts controlled Corky.

The acting from this cast was wonderful with Ann Margret credible as a lovely, sweet and trusting love interest. Her star qualities shone through and she played her warmly and beautifully. Ann Margret’s role was written with her in mind.

Hopkins was perfect with his vulnerable, nervy and intense portrayal of Corky, and he made his character one you wanted to support rather than fear. I was surprised when I learned he also voiced this dummy. He gave Fats an evil makeover to this character.

Jack Nicholson turned the role down, and it is hard to see this larger than life actor in this role. Despite Nicholson also performing as a man in another psychological horror in The Shining. Gene Wilder surprisingly felt this should be a comic film, and had also hoped to secure this role.

The Goldman screenplay is compelling with the true nature of the tale up for debate, with much argument around the Fats character. Theories suggest Corky has a mental health problem and is believed to have either schizophrenia or a multiple personality disorder.

Others believe this story is one with a more supernatural twist. This film lore is part of the film’s charm, in a film screenplay where nothing can be taken for granted. This storyline from the start as a romance to horror to its shocking, enigmatic ending. So don’t be a dummy and miss out on this Anthony Hopkins and Ann-Margret movie.


Weeper Rating:   😦 😦 😦 😦 😦/10

Handsqueeze Rating🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂🙂 🙂 🙂10

Hulk Rating: ‎ ‎mrgreen mrgreen mrgreen /10


The William Goldman Blogathon 2019 No 92

This blogathon was added to Taking Up Room‘s William Goldman blogathon. Other reviews with this cast include Burgess Meredith in When Time Ran Out and Burnt Offerings. David Ogden Stiers stars in The Accidental Tourist and MASH. Anthony Hopkins starred in reviews on Hitchcock, Oscar Winners in Superhero Movies, International Velvet, Westworld and Chaplin. Ed Lauter starred in Family Plot, Girls Just Want to Have Fun and The Cartier Affair.


17 thoughts on “FILMS… Magic (1978)

  1. Great review of a chilling film, Gill!
    I think MAGIC would be great as a double feature with PSYCHO because I interpret Corky and Fats to be similar to Norman and his mother.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Given the cast, and the fact that Attenborough had just done A Bridge Too Far, I can’t believe this wasn’t a bigger film. When Silence of the Lambs came out this was the film I knew Hopkins from. I need to watch Magic again, it’s been far too long.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. One bad thing about the movie being made is that few will ever experience the amazing shock of reading the book and not learning until the end that Fats is a ventriloquist dummy. Goldman is a terrific writer and that was one of the best twists I’ve ever experienced.

    Liked by 1 person

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