NB: This review contains one major spoiler.
Anthony Hopkins used to creep me out, which is why I never watched "Magic" when it was released in 1978. (Ironically, I started loving his acting after he played Hannibal Lecter in "Silence of the Lambs.") It is worth noting that Hopkins' ascent to super-stardom more or less coincided with his decision to quit drinking, so perhaps the viewer senses that he now saves his personal darkness for his roles, and seems remarkably open, charming, and at peace as a man.
Hopkins' demons and his charm are fully on display in 1978's "Magic," a compelling thriller written by William Goldman. Richard Attenborough does a fine job directing "Magic," however there is one major plot hole that somewhat spoils a key scene in the film. Hopkins plays Corky, a talented magician whose performance anxiety disappears when he teams up with Fats, a wooden dummy. While Corky is shy and tongue-tied, Fats is confident, vulgar, and funny.
"Magic" is not a horror movie, but rather a psychological thriller. While the storyline about a ventriloquist and his all-too-human dummy has been compared to the famous Michael Redgrave vignette from the British horror classic, "Dead of Night," there is no real twist in "Magic." The filmmakers are clear from fairly early on in the film (except for one teasing moment) that Corky is an unstable schizophrenic who uses his dummy to express shadow parts of himself.
However there is one major plot contradiction, in that, on numerous occasions, Corky is able to function just fine without Fats, which is why a key scene between Corky and his agent, Ben Greene (Burgess Meredith) didn't quite work for me.
Hopkins not only learned magic tricks for the film, he also mastered ventriloquism well enough to voice "Fats." His chilling and sympathetic performance (along with those of Ann-Margret and Burgess Meredith) is reason enough to add "Magic" to your must-watch list. If not quite on the level with "Psycho," at least Hopkins didn't get typecast for life for playing a violent schizophrenic, as Anthony Perkins did. Corky is not the role of a lifetime, but it is a real corker of a role.
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