Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Ann Margaret, Burgess Meredith
Director: Richard Attenborough
Nutshell: This film version of William Goldman’s edgy novel is a noble effort but lacks the sinister intensity of similarly themed predecessors.
With 1978’s Magic, Richard Attenborough, a director with an eye for the broadest of canvases turns his focus to a genre that could hardly be further removed from the sheer spectacle of his usual Gandhi-esque style of cinema. This is basically an elongated updating of the ventriloquist’s tale from the infinitely superior Dead of Night.
Hopkins is an introverted, failed stand-up comic who finds shelter in his only real friend, his dummy. Predictably, the dummy starts “turning” on his master and one wonders who is actually in control. It’s a twist on Psycho with a puppet basically and isn’t at all bad. It just suffers when compared to some of the other films that have tackled a similar theme so much more effectively such as Devil Doll and the above-mentioned Dead of Night. This comes up woefully anaemic in comparison.
The dull direction devoid of the necessary edginess that a tale like this requires is further weakened by a hammy performance by Anthony Hopkins whose American accent is about as grating as any heard in recent ages – truly seriously awful. Poor Ann Margaret has little to do and tries her best to sparkle and lends some class to proceedings. She is perfectly adequate in her role but the last bit when she imitates Fats is just a little jarring and not quite the chilling ending the filmmakers anticipated.
Burgess Meredith, a legend as TV’s Penguin, is the most effective of the actors in his role as the suspicious ex-agent of Hopkins. The film has one or two decent scenes and some moments of tension but it would have been far, far superior in the hands of a director more adept at handling the horror genre. Attenborough’s attempt is noble but fatally flaccid and flawed.