Magic (1978 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byRichard Attenborough
Produced by
Screenplay byWilliam Goldman
Based onMagic
by William Goldman
Music byJerry Goldsmith
CinematographyVictor J. Kemper
Edited byJohn Bloom
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • November 8, 1978 (1978-11-08)
Running time
107 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$7 million
Box office$23.8 million[1]

Magic is a 1978 American psychological horror film starring Anthony Hopkins, Ann-Margret and Burgess Meredith. The film, which was directed by Richard Attenborough, is based on a screenplay by William Goldman, who also wrote the novel upon which it was based. The score was composed by Jerry Goldsmith.


After Charles "Corky" Withers fails in his first attempt at professional magic, his mentor "Merlin" (E. J. André) says that he needs to have a better show business gimmick. A year later, Corky comes back as a combination magician and ventriloquist with a foul-mouthed dummy named Fats, becoming a huge success. Corky's powerful agent, Ben Greene, is on the verge of signing him for his own television show, but Corky bails out for the Catskills, where he grew up, claiming to be "afraid of success." In truth, Corky does not want to take the TV network's required medical examination because doctors might find out that he suffers from severe mental issues, and that even off-stage he cannot control Fats (a manifestation of Corky's id).

In the Catskills, Corky reunites with his high-school crush, Peggy Ann Snow, who is stuck in a passionless marriage with Corky's friend from high school, Duke. A magic trick with a deck of cards charms Peggy into thinking they are soulmates, leading to them having sex. This sparks the jealousy not only of Duke but also the dummy Fats. In the midst of an argument "between" Corky and Fats, Greene arrives unexpectedly and confronts Corky, discovering the truth about Corky's state of mind. Corky pleads that nothing is wrong with him and that he is just rehearsing, so Greene puts him to the test, saying "Make Fats shut up for 5 minutes." Corky puts aside Fats, but is unable to last 5 minutes without delivering a rapid stream of speech through Fats. Greene demands that Corky get help, and leaves to make some calls to doctors, but Fats convinces Corky to kill his agent. Corky chases after Greene in the woods and bludgeons him with Fats' hard, wooden head, and then attempts to drag the body into a lake. However, a still-living Greene suddenly lunges at him, causing Corky to drown him.

The next morning, Fats becomes even more possessive and jealous when Corky says that he plans to elope with Peggy and leave the dummy behind. Duke returns from his trip earlier than expected. Suspecting his wife has cheated on him, he wants to have a talk with Corky by the lake. Rather than confront him, Duke awkwardly confides to Corky that he loves Peggy and is worried about losing her. Duke suddenly spots Greene's body on the edge of the lake. Duke, believing Greene could still be alive, sends Corky to get help. Curious, he decides to search Corky's cabin, where Fats stabs him with "help" from Corky.

An increasingly deranged Corky manages to pull himself together and persuade Peggy to run away with him. But she insists on waiting to tell Duke face to face. She thinks everything is fine until Fats "comes alive" and reveals that Corky's card trick is only a ruse he uses to seduce women, and that Peggy is only the latest of his conquests. Repulsed, she rejects Corky and locks herself in her bedroom. Fats says that, from this point on, he will make the decisions in Corky's life, immediately asserting this new authority by ordering Corky to kill Peggy.

Corky, turning on the charm and using Fats' voice, apologizes to Peggy through her locked door, and leaves her a wooden heart that he carved. A short while later, Corky returns with a bloodstained knife. Fats seems pleased — until it is revealed that the blood on the knife is Corky's, who has fatally stabbed himself so that he won't kill anyone else. As a result, Fats also feels faint. They wonder which of them will die first. Moments later, Peggy returns to their cabin, happily calling out that she has changed her mind and has decided to run away with Corky after all. As she speaks, she playfully changes her voice to impersonate Fats.



Writing and casting[edit]

Joseph E. Levine bought the film rights to Goldman's novel for $1 million. This included Goldman's fee to write the screenplay.[2]

The first draft was written for first-choice director Norman Jewison.[3][4] Jewison wanted Jack Nicholson to star but Nicholson turned it down, claiming he did not want to wear a hairpiece.[5] Steven Spielberg expressed interest in directing the film and considered casting Robert De Niro for Corky.[6] Richard Attenborough, who had just made A Bridge Too Far with Goldman and Levine, then agreed to direct.

Laurence Olivier was originally offered the role of the agent but was unable to do it so Burgess Meredith was cast instead.[5] Meredith got the role after walking into 21 one night when Joe E. Levine was there – Levine cast him on the spot. Meredith modelled his performance on the agent Swifty Lazar, even shaving his head to look like Lazar. "I tried to get his cool, understated manner, his sharp clothes and, most of all, his way of speaking softly so that you've got to lean over to hear what he's saying," said Meredith.[7]

Goldman later wrote about the film that "Burgess Meredith was perfect and Tony 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."[8]

Ann-Margret and Anthony Hopkins were each paid around $300,000 for their performances.[9]


Exteriors were shot in Ukiah, California.[10]


The film received positive reviews from critics receiving a "certified fresh" 83% on Rotten Tomatoes. Film critic Gene Siskel gave the film a very positive review, and ranked it at #9 on his list of the 10 best films of 1978.

However, The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review 1990 writeup of the film remarks that Hopkins appears stiff in the lead role, but praised the supporting cast: "Ann-Margret...invests her role with a considerable sparkle. Particularly good is the great and underrated Burgess Meredith whose sharp and alert Hollywood agent is a real plum of a performance. Jerry Goldsmith also adds a fine nervy carnivalesque score." [11] Vincent Canby for The New York Times wrote that "Magic is neither eerie nor effective. It is, however, very heavy of hand."[12]

Awards & nominations[edit]

Goldman received a 1979 Edgar Award, from the Mystery Writers of America, for Best Motion Picture Screenplay. Hopkins received both Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations for his role as the tragically disturbed Corky.


The score was composed and conducted by the American composer Jerry Goldsmith.[13] The complete soundtrack was released on CD through Varèse Sarabande in April, 2003 and features twenty-two tracks score at a running time of forty-two minutes.[14] It was subsequently reissued by La-La Land Records.

Home media[edit]

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 (especially Embassy and nowadays MGM) have been able to release home video versions of Magic under different licenses. 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 amongst different entities. Recently the rights were acquired by the American Movie Classics division of AMC Film Holdings, LLC, while TV rights are handled for syndication by Trifecta Entertainment & Media (under Paramount Pictures). An uncut version is currently available on widescreen DVD and Blu-ray.

In popular culture[edit]

In 2010, the BBC Radio 4 satirical comedy series The Now Show claimed that Michael Gove looked like a scary ventriloquist puppet. As a result, whenever Gove is referenced, Hugh Dennis does an impression of Fats ordering "Govey" to do things.

See also[edit]

Madness resulting from one person living two personas through a ventriloquist's dummy has been portrayed several times before in film and television, most notably:


  1. ^ "Magic, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved June 25, 2012.
  2. ^ Levine Buys Film Rights To William Goldman Novel New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 03 Mar 1976: 27.
  3. ^ William Goldman, Five Screenplays, Applause, 1997 p 342
  4. ^ MOVIE CALL SHEET: Knievel to Star as Himself Kilday, Gregg. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 12 June 1976: c7.
  5. ^ a b Magic: Fats and Friends (2006) Dir: David Gregory, video short
  6. ^ Mell, Eila (2013). Casting Might-Have-Beens: A Film by Film Directory of Actors Considered for Roles Given to Others. McFarland. ISBN 153
  7. ^ At the Movies: Why Louis Malle made a New Orleans red-light-district film. Buckley, Tom. The New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 07 Apr 1978: C6.
  8. ^ William Goldman, Five Screenplays, Applause, 1997 p 343-344
  9. ^ European filmgoers are holding up 'Bridge' Beck, Marilyn. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file) [Chicago, Ill] 20 Oct 1977: a8.
  10. ^ Tempo People Gold, Aaron. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file) [Chicago, Ill] 15 Dec 1977: a2.
  11. ^ Magic, Moria — Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Review
  12. ^ Canby, Vincent (1978-11-08). "Film: Dummy Takes Over in 'Magic':Wooden Handed". The New York Times. Retrieved 2005-12-30.
  13. ^ 10 of the Most Underrated Horror Scores!
  14. ^ Clemmensen, Christian. "Magic soundtrack review". Retrieved 7 October 2011.

External links[edit]