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  • Its all here in embryo: the paradigm for Frankenstein. The mad scientist, trying to create life in his laboratory located in a forbidden tower on the top of a rocky mountain, while thunder and lightning terrify the superstitious villagers. Supposedly adapted from a W. Somerset Maugham novel, the possibility exists that it was Maugham (a qualified physician) who, still very much on the make for an overwhelming success in his third book, might have cribbed more than a little bit from Mary Shelly. However, instead of the Romantic Prometheus, driven mad by hubris and symbolic of mankind's desire to harness newfangled science to dominate and conquer nature, despite the warnings of terrible consequences, all taking place on the edge of the Industrial revolution, we have the elements shaped into a Victorian melodrama of the villain-continued-to-pursue-her variety complete with virgin's blood and a heroine tied in artful knots, and a villain motivated by nothing more than criminal insanity.

    On the other hand the artful visual qualities of the storytelling is something that has been lost in today's film vocabulary. A zippy 80 minutes or so, today the coarse need for thrills from this type of film would have necessitated a number anatomically gruesome murders before the final heroine jeopardy and heroic rescue. Here a little horror goes a very long way (all the way to the French Riviera, in fact). THE MAGICIAN is everything that made the silent film, at the same time, so great and so very silly. By the way, shots of Paris, virtually traffic free are a revelation, as are shots of a cobblestone village high up in the mountains (the Alps Maritimes) behind the Riviera. And yes, that's the same Paul Wegener who directed and starred in two versions of The Golom as well as playing Svengali in a 1927 version of the Du Maurier story.
  • Rex Ingram is probably best remembered for directing Rudolph Valentino's breakthrough film THE FOUIR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE (1921) but he ventured into the fledgling terror genre with this thriller starring Paul (The Golem) Wegener.

    Wegener's character, Dr. Oliver Haddo, is allegedly based on the real life character Alastair Crowley. When we first meet him he is in attendance as the famous Dr. Burdon (Ivan Petrovich) saves the life of lovely Margaret Dauncey (Alice Terry, the real life Mrs. Ingram) with an operation on her spine. While recovering, Margaret falls in love with Dr. Burdon and he returns her affections. Dr. Haddo is interested in her too but for far less healthy reasons. Dr. H you see, has been searching for the way to create artificial life in the laboratory (sound familiar?) and a old book on alchemy has informed him that he needs "the heart blood of a maiden" added to certain other chemicals to make this happen.

    So determined is Haddo to make this happen that he hypnotises Margaret and marries her while she is under his spell. At his mountain top lab he plans to complete his diabolical experiment. Will Margaret lose her own life so Haddo can create life? Will Dr. Burdon find her in time? Ah . . . that would be telling!

    What many of us wonder is, is Haddo a real magician or just a very good hypnotist? In one scene he allows a poisonous snake to bite him but makes the lethal wound vanish with just a wave of his hand. Just a moment later the same snake bites a young woman and she must be rushed to hospital. Now most of us know that a venomous snake expels all its venom at the first bite so the fact that it was the second bite that felled the woman should have been a tipoff that Haddo was not bitten at all. Yes, but remember this is a movie and we have to build up suspense. An amusing scene has Dr. Burdon and Dr. Haddo meeting for the first time in a park. As Haddo walks away Burdon remarks to Margaret "He looks like he stepped out of a melodrama!". As if on cue Haddo glares back, throws his cape over his shoulder and makes a perfect stage exit! It is an innocuous but effective moment and briefly clouds the menace that will soon be facing the lovers.

    The sequence most people remember is where Haddo gives Margaret a look at Hell. It is a rugged looking place but rather removed from the horrors of the Italian film L'INFERNO (1909) or even DANTE'S INFERNO (1926). The place is loaded with damned souls but they all dance around carefree while Pan (at least I think it's Pan) plays a tune on his pipes. Another faun (dancer Hubert Stowitts) takes Margaret in his arms and passionately kisses her as the dream ends. So did they really go to Hell or was it all a hypnotic dream? In a key scene soon after this Haddo visits Margaret at her home and we clearly see his lips say the words "your rape" which sends her into the deepest despair. Whether the rape was actual or just implied quickly becomes a moot point because she goes away with him, convinced she can never marry Dr. Burdon now.

    Elements of the final reels of THE MAGICIAN figure prominently in the Universal film FRANKENSTEIN (1931). Haddo has a monolithic castle at the top of a mountain, a dwarf assistant do you think his name is Fritz?) and a well equipped lab. I think that not only director James Whale but also the set designer for FRANKENSTEIN had to have sat through this film more than once.

    Talkies came along about a year after this film was completed and Wegener, who was uncertain of his ability to speak English, returned to Germany. He was not alone, he was soon joined by Emil Jannings, Conrad Veidt and several other actors who had their doubts about being able to effectively perform in a foreign (to them)language.

    So is THE MAGICIAN worth seeing? Yes it is, despite its shortcomings it is a well paced and convincingly performed thriller. Give it a try.
  • Until a few months ago, when Michael Elliott added it to his list of films watched to be exact, I was under the impression that this was a lost title – a view which was certainly true till the late 70s since Carlos Clarens, in his wonderful 1967 "Horror Movies" book, called it "probably the most elusive of lost movies" and even Leslie Halliwell, in the 1977 edition of his famous "Film Guide", gives it as unavailable for reappraisal! Indeed, virtually the only way I had previously known this film was via one intriguing still of the Hades sequence found in the section devoted to director Rex Ingram in the periodical "The Movies" (published in the early 80s)…so, it's great that THE MAGICIAN has eventually seen the light of day (albeit unofficially) and, thankfully, it lives up to its considerable reputation – to my eyes, at least.

    Ingram was one of Silent cinema's master visual stylists but is now a forgotten figure best-known for the Rudolph Valentino version of THE FOUR HORSEMAN OF THE APOCALYSE (1921); his retirement from films once Talkies came in suggests that, like D.W. Griffith, he was unable to adapt to the ongoing progress in cinematic technique and, indeed, his films – like Griffith's – have an inherently stilted quality to them which dates his output more than those of contemporary auteurs! Anyway, this was my fourth Ingram movie after the interesting THE CONQUERING POWER (1921), the fine if somewhat underwhelming THE PRISONER OF ZENDA (1922) and the rousing SCARAMOUCHE (1923); unfortunately, my copy of MARE NOSTRUM (1926) – recorded off TCM UK – got erased by accident before I had the opportunity to watch it. Alice Terry, Ingram's wife, appeared in 15 of his films and here plays the distressed virginal heroine – who's the prime ingredient for the experiment concocted by the magician of the title (Paul Wegener). The latter, best-known for his three "Golem" pictures made at the height of the "German Expressionist" movement, makes for an overwhelmingly menacing villain – although I found his being a medical student quite amusing (Wegener was 52 at the time of filming!). By the way, the character of Oliver Haddo was based by novelist W. Somerset Maugham on notorious English Occultist and writer Aleister Crowley! The film, an MGM production but shot in France (where Ingram lived), is ostensibly a variation on the Frankenstein myth with a few Svengali overtones thrown in for good measure; interestingly, Paul Wegener would star in an official version of that one in Germany the following year. Ingram's assistant director was the future iconoclastic English film-maker, Michael Powell, who also appears unbilled in a snake-charming sequence around the middle of the film! As expected, the film is pictorially quite stylish (shot by frequent Rex Ingram, Preston Sturges and Billy Wilder lenser, John F. Seitz), especially in the fantasy sequence set in Hades – which must surely have left an indelible impression on Ingram's production manager here, Harry Lachman, to refer back to it when he came to direct the Spencer Tracy version of DANTE'S INFERNO (1935) – and the finale set in a laboratory on a remote mountaintop, which uncannily prefigures (literally step by step) the similar climax at the end of James Whale's BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935)!; as a matter of fact, Wegener even has a dwarfish assistant a' la Dwight Frye in Whale's FRANKENSTEIN (1931) – so, it's very possible that Whale had seen Ingram's film.

    One is all the more grateful, then, that a print of THE MAGICIAN has survived since it helps throw more light on the influences behind the greatest horror film ever made (which also happens to be my all-time favorite film)
  • irearly14 June 2006
    I read Carlos Clarens "Horror Movies" in '68 and it was one of the bigger influences on my movie tastes (as was seeing my first movie "House on Haunted Hill" in the theater with Emergo when I was five years old) so I'm inclined to recommend this movie for those who would like a fluid distillation of what was best about the silent cinema.

    I saw it at the Film Forum in NYC around '92 or '93. Ingram had moved to France and The Magician is notable for its documentary footage of Paris, Monaco and the French countryside. Wegener is a formidably grotesque presence and there is a remarkable set piece at the very beginning when a huge clay sculpture collapses, seeming at first to come to life, sending Alice Terry to the hospital. Oliver Haddo, the magician of the title, lurks in the observation gallery as a life saving operation is performed on her...

    This movie really has it all so don't miss it if you get the chance especially if you can see it with live musical accompaniment.
  • Beautiful Margaret Dauncey (Alice Terry) is set to marry young handsome Dr. Arthur Burdon (Ivan Petrovich). They meet an evil magician named Oliver Haddo (Paul Wegener) who is trying to create life. He needs the blood of someone whose profile fits Margaret's perfectly...and he'll so ANYTHING to get it.

    Hard to see silent. I want to thank TCM for showing it about a week ago. The print was in pretty good shape with tinting and an amusing music score (LOVED when they used "Night on Bald Mountain"). The movie was made with a pretty big budget--the settings are incredible--and has a good script that follows many horror film clichés--but in a good way. Heck, it all ends on a dark and stormy night and in a CASTLE! Also there's a trip to Hell which is a real jaw dropper. The acting varies. Terry was a star of the silent screen and it's easy to see why. She was a beautiful woman AND a good actress. She's just great here. Wegener chews the scenery again and again and AGAIN as the mad magician. He really overdoes it--but it's pretty amusing. Petrovich is given nothing to do as the doctor but him and Terry make a very good-looking couple. Beautifully directed by Rex Ingram too (who was Terry's husband). Well worth seeing--if you can.
  • In Paris, beautiful sculptress Alice Terry (as Margaret Dauncey) is critically wounded when a giant faun she is working on cracks, topples, and crushes her body. Ms. Terry's wealthy uncle summons American surgeon Ivan Petrovich (as Arthur Burdon) to operate on Terry's paralyzed body. The doctor and patient celebrate Terry's full recovery by falling in love. During their courtship, they encounter magician hypnotist Paul Wegener (as Oliver Haddo), an alchemist who witnessed Terry's miraculous surgery. A frightening, rotund man, Mr. Wegener happens to encounter Dr. Petrovich and Terry again and again. Wegener wants to create life, and has decided Terry will supply the "Blood of a Maiden" required in an ancient sorcerer's recipe!

    While still a young woman, Terry seems more like a matron than a maiden - guess you just have to assume "The Magician" knows a virgin when he sees one. In W. Somerset Maugham's original novel, the Terry character is a teenaged art student, and the intriguing Gladys Hamer (as Susie Boyd) an older rival; it's an excellent read, and fairly easy to find on line (for free). Most unclear, in the film, is exactly how Wegener's experiment is supposed to work. Playing "Dr. Frankenstein" (and inspiring the 1931 classic's design), Wegener sets up a lab to extract blood, apparently. Highlighted by a hellish hallucination, it's very nicely envisioned by Terry's skillful director husband Rex Ingram; but, it lacks the richness of plot abundantly available in the book.

    ****** The Magician (10/24/26) Rex Ingram ~ Alice Terry, Paul Wegener, Ivan Petrovich, Firmin Gemier
  • Warning: Spoilers
    "The Magician" {1926} is directed by Rex Ingram and stars Alice Terry as Margaret, Ivan Pétrovich as Dr Arthur Burdon and Paul Wegener as Oliver Haddo, the villainous practitioner of Black Magic.

    If one is willing to make the necessary suspension of disbelief there isn't the slightest doubt but that the film provides loads of entertainment as a horror/thriller combination.

    The two leads don't have very much to do in terms of acting. Burdon is the usual faithful hero and Alice Terry's character spends most of her time staring helplessly about in a trance and looking full of Angst. Paul Wegner (who directed "The Golum" (1920)} steals every scene he's in with a wonderfully spectacular over-the-top melodramatic portrayal of the Magician who needs the heart blood of a maiden to create life {hmm . . . I wonder who's supposed to provide that ingredient}.

    Another star in the film is the great cliff-top, tower-castle of Hadoo himself, surrounded with bolts of lightning and filled with such items as strange potions which bubble and foam with a satisfactorily smoking violence, strange manuscripts and sinister props. When Hadoo picks up his box of sharp knives, one can't help noticing the nearby cupboard topped with a skull nicely festooned with cobwebs. There's the expected winding staircase to impede the heroic rescue and an open fully fired-up incinerator helps us along to the climax which ends with a suitable cataclysm.

    There are a very few points where the film is slightly disjointed--obviously owing to the fact that a few frames have been lost, but one soon forgets them. Generally the print used by TCM is very sharp and beautifully tinted. It's a pleasure to watch it. Robert Israel's score is well chosen, skillfully applied and very atmospheric. Note, for example, the reunion of hero and heroine is underlined by the love theme from Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet.

    The story of the film is based on a novel of the same name by Somerset Maugham and it is available for free download on Project Gutenberg. I've not read it yet but I might do so if only to compare the two approaches.

    This is a film I would recommend for the entertaining use it makes of the typical stereotypes of the horror genre but above all for Wegener's fabulous performance.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Monday January 12, 7:00pm, Paramount Theater, Seattle

    A young artist falls in love with the surgeon who cures her paralysis following a horrible accident, but a mad scientist hypnotizes, then abducts her just as she and the surgeon are about to be married.

    Loosely based on Somerset Maugham's 1908 novel, The Magician (1926) stars Alice Terry as beautiful but timid Margaret Dauncey. Oliver Haddo, played with evil intensity by renowned German horror star Paul Wegener, is obsessed with creating human life by use of an ancient, stolen formula and imprisons Margaret in his mountaintop laboratory as part of the sinister plan.

    While considered something of a disappointment by director Rex Ingram, The Magician contains both frightening and beautiful imagery with a satisfying if rudimentary plot. Great attention to detail can be seen throughout the film, which includes spectacular location shoots in Paris and the Maritime Alps. Even in mediocrity, Ingram was vastly superior to nearly everyone else.
  • In the 1920s films dealing with supernatural evil were extremely rare. However, director Rex Ingram, obviously influenced by earlier German forays into the supernatural, cast German actor Paul Wegener of DER GOLEM in this adaptation of Somerset Maugham's novel THE MAGICIAN. Wegener's menacing performance as an evil Yogi in LEBENDE BUDDHAS (1925) made him a good choice to play Oliver Haddo, obsessed with creating life from an ancient formula requiring the heart's blood of a maiden, played by Ingram's wife Alice Terry.

    John F. Seitz' cinematography is superb, especially in the depiction of the heroine's hallucinatory descent into Hell where she is figuratively ravished by a lustful and athletic satyr. And although Haddo doesn't succeed in creating the grisly, half-complete humans as in the novel, the controversial subject matter was nevertheless strong enough to insure the film's failure at the box-office in 1926.

    Interesting comparisons have been made between this film and James Wale's FRANKENSTEIN, but the subject of black magic also invites comparison with later films - THE BLACK CAT (1934), THE NIGHT OF THE DEMON (1957), and THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (1968) - featuring characters who like Oliver Haddo were modeled on real-life occultist Aleister Crowley.
  • kerrydragon15 March 2010
    First time on TCM,so I was curious to see this old "svengali" type film.The name alone was intriguing "The Magician".What I found was a totally intact silent of the best quality.The Villain in the picture plays it to the hilt,in somewhat cartooned expressions,but always creepy and interesting.The backdrop of Paris is of interest as are the colour sequences.The clothing in this film are especially attractive as is the well groomed cast.I was captivated from start to finish,what a treat to see a silent as it should be.The acting was wonderful from all,even though I had never heard of these particular actors before.I am a lover of old horror films and this really fit the bill.Enjoyed the castle,and early special effects.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    A mad doctor and his hunchbacked assistant labor over their unholy experiments in an abandoned mountaintop castle during a fierce electrical storm. Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein'? No, it's a W. Somerset Maugham story, filmed by Rex Ingram five years before the Boris Karloff classic, which in many ways it clearly anticipated. The film was one of the earliest horror dramas, and some of the unlikely but sensational plot twists (involving mesmerism, a virgin sacrifice, and a hallucinogenic trip to Hell) outraged polite audiences of its day. Most of the grisly details were artfully implied rather than overtly shown, making the film, in retrospect, superior to much of the broad melodrama surviving the silent age. Natural performances and realistic settings (Paris and Southern France) keep the colorful story from straining the limits of credibility, while the last minute rescue adds a satisfying (and, for the mad doctor, fatal) kick.
  • Practically every element of this film holds up very well here in the twenty-first century, eighty-four years after the movie was made - the writing, the casting, the directing (and art direction), the photography (both indoor and outdoor), the "costumes" and "sets" (really, the fashions and architecture of the era were a captivating delight), and most of the acting. I say "most" because the only thing that seemed dated in this post-feminist era was the woe-is-me attitude of the hapless heroine.

    Particularly well-cast in terms of "looking the part" were the two male leads, both protagonist and antagonist. (After all, these were not speaking parts, so look was of high importance.)

    Surprisingly enjoyable were some quite subtle, non-intrusive comedic tension-breakers by peripheral characters, including some clever silent movie sight gags.

    The main recommendation I can make for seeing this film, however, is the clarity of the photography, both for the close-ups, and for some wonderful outdoor set pieces.
  • Michael_Elliott28 February 2008
    Magician, The (1926)

    ** (out of 4)

    Influential MGM horror/thriller has a magician/surgeon (Paul Wegener of The Golem) trying to find the secret of bringing the dead to life. After some research he learns that the blood of a virgin will do the trick. From a historic standpoint this film remains important due to its heavy influence on films such as The Raven, Murders in the Rue Morgue, Mystery of the Wax Museum and especially James Whale's Frankenstein but the film itself is pretty dull. The influences on those films isn't really seen until the final ten minutes and everything leading up to it is rather dry and doesn't contain any life at all. There's some nice visual touches and the use of shadows is good but the early German horror films done all of this much better. Directed by Rex Ingram.
  • This is a very good silent film that still hold up very well today. When the film begins, Margaret (Alice Terry) is terribly injured--so badly she's paralyzed. However, Dr. Burdon (Iván Petrovich) performs surgery on her and she is healed. They soon fall in love and life looks grand. However, Oliver Haddo (Paul Wegener) sees her and instantly is smitten with her. Using his evil magical powers, he's able to pull her to him despite he loving the Doctor. However, he's not taking her because he loves her...nope. He's planning on using her for a human sacrifice in order to act like a Dr. Frankenstein and prove he can raise the dead!! Can Dr. Burdon rescue his love before it's too late?

    This is a good film...very tense and exciting. Wegener (the German actor who starred in "The Golem") was excellent as the powerful madman and the film, though melodramatic, avoids going overboard like some films of the era thanks to good direction by Rex Ingram....Terry's real life husband.
  • A little bit of a mix between movies that came before and after it, the title character combining the mind control of Dr. Mabuse (1922) with the desire to create life of Dr. Frankenstein (1931), though it's actually based on the 1908 novel by W. Somerset Maugham. There's quite a bit of mood here in the scenes which work, and that's what put it over the top for me, despite plodding along a bit early on, including a snake charmer scene at a carnival that seems like a weak version of Browning. Eventually we get to the evil magician's laboratory, which is set in a cool tower high above a town, and what do you know, he's also got a hunchbacked assistant. He uses mind control on a young woman (Alice Terry) to get her to marry him instead of her fiancée (Iván Petrovich) because he's found an ancient recipe for creating life, and it calls for the blood from the heart of a maiden. It's not exactly clear how that's supposed to work, beyond combining it with other unspecified things kept at 115 degrees, I mean, is life supposed to arise from a soupy mixture? It's not quite as well conceived as Frankenstein trying to animate a corpse, but it's suitably dark, and German actor Paul Wegener is strong in the leading role. In one fantastic scene, the film's best and a little reminiscent of Faust (1926), he casts an illusion for the young woman, one of a mostly naked satyr and various forest creatures dancing around in a mad orgy, leading to one of them biting down on her neck like a vampire. There are also some pretty shots in Paris, Monaco, and Nice. It's not perfect, but it's got some great moments and was clearly influential.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    . . . of its time. THE MAGICIAN features rampant abuse of the differently-abled, as well as generous helpings of misogyny and a Luddite-like know-nothing anti-Science Agenda. The final 15 minutes of THE MAGICIAN is marred by the demeaning of a dwarf. Certain of these scenes resemble the Young Pachyderm Parties on Today's college campuses, in which the "Dwarf Toss" is a major pastime. Stuffing Little People into cramped pieces of furniture may seem "cute" to some twisted minds in these "anything goes" days of immorality with the Red Commie KGB egging on Americans to behave badly, but any self-respecting film studio should have known better than to foment such outrageous attitudes in the more civilized 1920s. The paternalism with which "Margaret's" guardian second-guesses her choice of a mate also sounds like something out of our current GIRL ERASED era. And the glee with which this authoritarian bozo closes out THE MAGICIAN by burning doomed "Oliver's" scientific papers, vandalizing his biological apparatus, and blowing up his entire laboratory definitely parallels this week's trashing of the 1,600-page Global Warming Disaster Alert.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Getting back to the big stars of silents, it would be hard to go past Lon Chaney. Mockery (1927) presents Lon with a false nose and wig as a dim-witted Russian peasant who is almost persuaded by the popular comedian, Charles Puffy (here repulsively evil in a wholly dramatic role), to join the Russian Revolution.

    Oddly, the movie also boasts another well-known comedian-turned-serious-actor in its cast, namely Mack Swain as the grasping Gaidaroff.

    Although second-billed, Ricardo Cortez has only a small role to play, which he accomplishes with his usual finesse.

    Nonetheless, despite this grand roll-up - Chaney, Puffy, Swain, Cortez - it's actually Barbara Bedford's movie. She is superb! Hard to believe that in less than three years, her star would decline and she would spend the rest of her lengthy career playing scores and scores of walk-ons and bits.

    (Available on an excellent Warner Archive DVD).