Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Magician (1926)

Not to be confused with the 1973-1974 Bill Bixby TV series, this The Magician is a silent film based on a 1908 novel of the same name by W. Somerset Maugham.

" Nearly fifty years after the publication of The Magician, the author, Maugham, commented on his book in A Fragment of Autobiography. He writes that by then he had almost completely forgotten the book, and, on rereading it, found the writing "lush and turgid", using more adverbs and adjectives than he would at that later date, and notes that he must have been trying to emulate the "écriture artiste" (artistic writing) of the French writers of the time."-From the Wikipedia Entry on Maugham's novel.

The film adaption of the novel was directed by a rather interesting man Rex Ingram (not to be confused with the black character actor of the same name). This Ingram was born in Ireland the son of a clergyman, came to the United States to study sculpting and eventually feel into film making. At one point in his career Ingram ranked with Griffith and DeMille as one of the leading artistic directors of his time, he lost interest in the medium however shortly after the introduction of sound, went back to sculpting, and later converted to Islam, dying of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1950 at the age of 58.

Ingram cast his second wife, actress Alice Terry as the films female lead, Margaret Dauncey, an art student (specializing in sculpture) at a French school (this film was shot in France) who becomes the object of desire of Oliver Haddo (Paul Wegener) a medical student obsessed with the dark arts. The character of Haddo is based loosely on that of famed poet and occultist Aleister Crowley, who due to declassified documents we now know worked as a British spy in America just before World War II. Interestingly the actor who played Haddo, Paul Wegener, was a German who became an "actor of the state" during the 1930's and 40's but  secretly donated money to resistance groups and  hid vulnerable people in his apartment.

All of this seeming tangential information is to say that the stories surrounding this film and the people that made it are perhaps more interesting then the movie its self. This is actually a good movie though, better able to keep a 21st Century viewers interest them most movies from its period, its straight forwardish tale of two men vying for the same woman, one evil (Haddo) and the other good Dr. Arthur Burdon (Serbian actor Ivan Petrovich). There are some nice artistic flourishes like the vision of the fantasy dream state Haddo puts Margaret into which is reminiscent of some of the work of director Benjamin Christensen in Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922). On the whole, this was an interesting curio.