The Magus (film)

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The Magus
The Magus FilmPoster.jpeg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byGuy Green
Written byJohn Fowles
Based onThe Magus
by John Fowles
Produced byJud Kinberg
John Kohn
StarringMichael Caine
Anthony Quinn
Candice Bergen
Anna Karina
Julian Glover
CinematographyBilly Williams
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • 10 December 1968 (1968-12-10)
Running time
117 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office$1 million (US/ Canada rental)[2]

The Magus is a 1968 British mystery film directed by Guy Green. The screenplay was written by John Fowles, based on his 1965 novel of the same name. It starred Michael Caine, Anthony Quinn, Candice Bergen and Anna Karina.


Nicholas Urfe is a young Englishman, who has taken a teaching position on the Greek island of Phraxos, following the previous instructor's suicide. For Nicholas, it is a chance to sample different surroundings and an opportunity to escape from a relationship with his emotionally unstable lover Anne.

At first, Nicholas' life on Phraxos is uneventful but peaceful. However, he soon becomes involved with a reclusive man named Maurice Conchis, who owns an estate on the opposite side of the island, and has a beautiful young woman named Lily as his companion. On being introduced to the couple, Nicholas' life begins to unravel, and he tries to find out who the mysterious Conchis really is.

Is he a psychiatrist? A film producer? A Nazi sympathiser? Or a magician who controls the lives and destinies of those around him? Nicholas quickly begins to lose his grip on reality, sinking deeper into Conchis's game.

During visits to Conchis's estate, Nicholas has a series of experiences which gradually become more unexpected and bizarre. Many are related to (or are re-enactments of) past events from Conchis's life. Ultimately, these events begin happening off the estate as well at unexpected times and places, raising questions as to how much power and control Conchis can actually exercise over others' lives.

The story climaxes with a "trial" directed by Conchis, with Nicholas (and many others) participating.

The final scene, which may be interpreted as a coda, concerns Nicholas' relationship with Anne, and whether or not it will continue.


The film's writer John Fowles has a minor role as a boat captain.


The film was a critical disaster. Fowles was extremely disappointed with it, and laid most of the blame on director Guy Green[3] despite having written the screenplay himself. Michael Caine said that it was one of the worst films he had been involved in along with The Swarm and Ashanti because no one knew what it was all about. Candice Bergen said in an interview about the film: "I didn't know what to do and nobody told me. I couldn't put together the semblance of a performance." When Peter Sellers was asked whether he would make changes in his life if he had the opportunity to do it all over again, he jokingly replied, "I would do everything exactly the same except I wouldn't see The Magus.".[4]

Despite the film's failure, it was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Cinematography (Billy Williams) and retained a cult following.[5]

Box office[edit]

According to Fox records, the film required $7 million in rentals to break even, and by 11 December 1970, it had made $2,450,000, resulting in a loss to the studio.[6]

Home media[edit]

The film was released to DVD by 20th Century Fox on 16 October 2006, marking the first time that it has ever been available on home video in the U.S.


  1. ^ Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p255
  2. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1969", Variety, 7 January 1970 p 15
  3. ^ John Fowles, The French Lieutenant's Diary, Granta #86, 2004, ISBN 0-903141-69-8
  4. ^ Goldman, William (1983). Adventures in the Screen Trade. New York: Warner Books. ISBN 0446512737.
  5. ^ Perkins, Claire and Constantine Verevis (2014). B Is for Bad Cinema: Aesthetics, Politics, and Cultural Value. Albany: SUNY Press. pp. 197–212. ISBN 9781438449951. Retrieved 25 January 2017.
  6. ^ Silverman, Stephen M (1988). The Fox that got away : the last days of the Zanuck dynasty at Twentieth Century-Fox. L. Stuart. p. 327.

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