Upon seeing Fats for the first time, Sir Anthony Hopkins was allowed to take the doll home to work with it. However, he wound up being so unnerved by it that he called the consulting ventriloquist in the middle of the night, threatening to throw Fats into the canyon if someone didn't come and get the doll immediately. Director Sir Richard Attenborough ended up going to Hopkins' house to calm him down.
William Goldman, in his book "Five Screenplays" (1997) said of this movie: "Burgess Meredith was perfect, and Tony Hopkins (Sir Anthony Hopkins) was so wonderful here. But running stride for stride with him was Miss Olsson. I think Ann-Margret is the least appreciated emotional actress anywhere."
Gene Wilder was the original choice for Corky, and director Sir Richard Attenborough and writer William Goldman wanted him, but producer Joseph E. Levine refused, on the grounds he wanted no comedians in the movie to distract from the serious nature of the story.
The original trailer for this movie, featuring the dummy Fats, was removed from broadcasting stations after parents complained on how scary it was. In the trailer, Fats talks, closes his eyes after he says the last line, which is "we're dead". The voice-over mentions the actors and the R-rating, at which point, Fats opens his eyes, and they roll to the left.
Many years after this movie's release, Gene Wilder was asked at a book signing in New York City what role he wished he had gotten to play, and he said Corky in this movie. Gene said he felt that the role and the movie would have worked much better with a comedian in the role.
To prepare for his performance in this movie, Sir Anthony Hopkins learned magic tricks and studied the art of ventriloquism. Hopkins learned how to project his voice and manipulate a ventriloquist's dummy.
This movie was R.L. Stine's inspiration for the dummy "Slappy" in his children's horror story series Goosebumps. In the television adaptation of the books, Slappy has the same sounding voice as Fats.
Gene Siskel ranked the movie at the number nine spot on his Ten Best Films of the Year list for 1978.
In the closing credits, Sir Anthony Hopkins is billed twice, first and fifth, for the characters of Corky and Fats, respectively.
In the book, Merlin had a bigger part. Amongst other things, it tells how he and Corky met, and describes how Merlin trained Corky to do card tricks.
Richard Attenborough agreed to direct this film and A Bridge Too Far (1977) in exchange for obtaining financing from Joseph E. Levine for his dream project, Gandhi (1982).
It is never explained in the movie what Fats is. Several theories have been made, the first and most accurate being that the dummy is a form of Dissociative Identity Disorder. Other theories include schizophrenia, the dummy being possessed, the dummy being a tulpa, or an imaginary friend.
Burgess Meredith replaced Sir Laurence Olivier. Olivier was set to play Ben Greene, but had to drop out, due to illness.
At one point, Steven Spielberg was courted to direct, and Spielberg seriously considered Robert De Niro as Corky.
A short behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of this movie, Magic: Fats & Friends (2006), was made and released for DVD in 2006.
For this movie, William Goldman was awarded the 1979 Edgar Award for Best Motion Picture Screenplay from the Mystery Writers of America.
Reportedly, this movie was shot on closed sets in Hollywood, so as to preserve the secrets of the plot and storyline.
This movie was released two years after its source novel of the same name by William Goldman was published.
This is the third of five films directed by Richard Attenborough that featured Anthony Hopkins. The others were Chaplin (1992), Shadowlands (1993), Young Winston (1972) and A Bridge Too Far (1977).
According to Wikipedia, the picture has had several legal issues, "as 20th Century Fox never owned complete rights to this film (the studio did, and still does own, the theatrical distribution and music rights), other companies have released home video versions of the film over succeeding years under different licenses. In the meantime, the film continued to play on broadcast television in edited versions. However, subsequent legal complications kept the film from being formally reissued on VHS and DVD in the last decade, due in part to Embassy Pictures' corporate holdings being divided among different entities. Recently, the rights were acquired by the American Movie Classics division of AMC Film Holdings, LLC, while television rights are handled for syndication by Trifecta Entertainment & Media (under Paramount Pictures). The uncut version is currently available on widescreen DVD and Blu-ray."
This movie has often been likened to Dead of Night (1945), which featured a tale with a ventriloquist and his dummy. This movie was released a year after that movie's television remake, Dead of Night (1977), but the television movie didn't feature a segment with a dummy and ventriloquist.
Sir Richard Attenborough directed this movie between two epic movies, A Bridge Too Far (1977) and Gandhi (1982).
After the success of A Bridge Too Far (1977), Joseph E. Levine wanted to work with William Goldman and Sir Richard Attenborough again, and bought the rights to Goldman's book with the intention of having Attenborough direct it. Attenborough accepted the assignment because he could use it to finance Gandhi (1982).
Publicity for this movie stated that it moves fascinatingly between two worlds, the glitter and excitement of nightclubs, hotels, and restaurants in the entertainment capitals of Hollywood and New York City, and the contrasting desolation of a nearly deserted holiday resort amidst the pastoral beauty of the Catskill lakes and mountains.
Ann-Margret and Sir Anthony Hopkins were each paid around $300,000 for their performances.
According to "Variety", the character of agent Ben Green (Burgess Meredith) was a "Swifty Lazar-type of superagent" character.
Along with A Chorus Line (1985), this is one of only two films directed by Richard Attenborough to be set in the present.
According to the New York Times article "Levine Buys Film Rights To William Goldman Novel" published on March 3, 1976, the movie rights to the book were purchased for $1 million by Joseph E. Levine.
The two things that show business agent Ben Green (Burgess Meredith) said that he had survived, which meant that he did not scare easily, were Tallulah Bankhead, and the death of vaudeville.
Original director Norman Jewison wanted an unknown ventriloquist to portray the role of Corky. Jewison met with the then unknown ventriloquist Jay Johnson after Johnson's manager Richard O. Linke reached out to the director. After Jewison saw Johnson performing at The Horn in Hollywood, he was sold on Jay's abilities as a ventriloquist and actor. Jewison approached the studio with his first choice for the lead role, but they wanted a big name actor, specifically Jack Nicholson. Jay was then offered the role of the cab driver and as a ventriloquism coach for Nicholson. However, Nicholson took a leave from acting for three months and Jewison had to move on to his next directing project. It is not true that Nicholson dropped out because he didn't want to wear a toupee, as is erroneously stated in a documentary about the film.
Many movie posters featured a preamble that read: "Abracadabra, I sit on his knee. Presto, change-o, and now he's me! Hocus Pocus, we take her to bed. Magic is fun; we're dead". All three magic terms in this text block, "Abracadabra", "Presto change-o" and "Hocus Pocus", have been the titles of other movies.
The Northern Irish rock band Therapy? sampled a line from this movie in their song "Dancin' with Manson".
After Young Winston (1972) and A Bridge Too Far (1977), this is the third consecutive movie directed by Sir Richard Attenborough that featured Sir Anthony Hopkins.
There is a similar plot of a ventriloquist terrorized by an evil dummy that appeared in The Twilight Zone (1959) season three, episode thirty-three, "The Dummy".
This was the final movie that Sir Anthony Hopkins made with producer Joseph E. Levine. The others were The Lion in Winter (1968) and A Bridge Too Far (1977).
The tagline that Corky (Sir Anthony Hopkins) billed his dummy Fats was as "the first X-rated dummy".
The nickname of show business agent Ben Greene (Burgess Meredith) was "The Postman". He was called this, because it was said that he always delivers.
Of the twelve films directed by Richard Attenborough, this is the first of only three not based on actual events. The other two are A Chorus Line (1985) and Closing the Ring (2007).
Horror maestro/ author extraordinaire Stephen King wrote about this movie in his autobiography Dance Macabre. He compared unfavorably with another similarly themed devil doll movie that came out the same year: Tourist Trap :"(Tourist Trap) is a sleeper. It's much more effective than the misguided Magic." Why King thought Magic was "misguided" is not clear; and he does not elaborate on why he thinks it's worse than Tourist Trap. But the critical community agreed with him that it was a mixed bag; and probably a misfire.
Of this movie, critic Leonard Maltin said "Wait for a re-run of Dead of Night (1945)" while according to "Rating the Movies", this movie was "reminiscent of the classic 1945 British chiller Dead of Night (1945)", while Phil Hardy's "Encyclopaedia of Horror Movies" stated that the movie was an "expansion of Alberto Cavalcanti's contribution to Dead of Night (1945)."
Ann-Margret and Burgess Meredith later went on to appear in Grumpy Old Men (1993) and Grumpier Old Men (1995). They have no screen time together in this film but do share scenes together in the latter films.
Final movie that Ann-Margret made with producer Joseph E. Levine. The others being The Tiger and the Pussycat (1967), Carnal Knowledge (1971), and C.C. & Company (1970).
This was the first film directed by Richard Attenborough in which his brother-in-law Gerald Sim did not appear.
This is an interesting companion piece to Silence of the Lambs, Sir Anthony Hopkins' other serial killer slasher; where he's the villain.
Rosie Odonnell quoted the trailer for this show on her hit 90s tv show; and raved about how it terrified when she was a little girl.
Norman Jewison wanted Jack Nicholson to star, but Nicholson turned it down, claiming he did not want to wear a hairpiece.
The nickname of Charles Withers (Sir Anthony Hopkins) was "Corky". Other nicknames that Peggy Ann Snow (Ann-Margret) had for Corky were "Cor" and "Cork".
Penultimate movie produced by Richard P. Levine and Joseph E. Levine. Their final movie was Tattoo (1981).
Of the nine films that Richard Attenborough directed from 1969 to 1993, this is one of only two in which his brother-in-law Gerald Sim did not appear. The other is A Chorus Line (1985).
Both Anthony Hopkins and Burgess Meredith have been in several other horror movies. Hopkins was in Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal and Red Dragon; among others. Merdith was in Burnt Offerings and The Sentinel, among others. But this is Anne-Margaret's one and only horror film. Ironically, in spite of all of this, Author William Goldman said he was pleased with (how the film turned out); and he gave Meredith and Hopkins praise; but he said "miss Olsson was the best". Olsson is Anne-Margarets surname.