Wednesday, 13 January 2016
THE MAGICIAN (1926)
THE MAGICIAN (1926). Paul ‘THE GOLEM’ Wegener accepted an invitation from Hollywood in 1926 to play the title character in director Rex Ingram’s Parisian occult thriller based on the W. Somerset Maugham novel. His broad Asiatic features, imposing physique and forbidding stare were now put to work for American audiences. “He looks as if he had stepped out of a melodrama!” scoffs the male love interest Arthur Burdon (Iván Petrovich) to his fiancé Margaret played by Alice Terry. Fate brought them together when Margaret, a sculptor, has her spine damaged by her eighteen-foot faun sculpture toppling onto her, and Burdon, a surgeon, operates on her with great success. They are not aware that Margaret is being studied covetously during her operation by Oliver Haddo (Wegener) a sinister magician and student of the Black Arts of witchcraft. He visits Margaret and shows off his terrifying hypnotic ability by bringing her sculpture to life as part of a hellish ‘orgy of the damned’ series of imagery before her.
Margaret fits the shopping list for Haddo’s main ingredient for his creation of life experiment – “(the heart-blood of) a maiden of fair skin, golden hair, eyes that are blue or grey is essential”. Her suitability is such that he steals her away from Burdon on their wedding morning and marries her himself, but not before demonstrating to Burdon, Margaret and her uncle/guardian Dr Porhoet that his magical power extends to even vaporising a deadly snake bite.
Burdon and Porhoet track down his fiancé and her evil Svengali ‘husband’ to Monte Carlo where Margaret tearfully begs for Burdon’s forgiveness. He assures her he knows it is not her fault that such a wicked hypnotist had her under his spell but that Haddo intends “to kill me in an experiment of magic”. They leave the Riviera, and after a sanitarium stay Margaret’s memory of the magician is but a bad dream – until he kidnaps her and takes her to his intimidating tower in the village of Latourette.
Burdon and Porhoet race to the rescue once more, as Haddo concocts formulas in his lab while our heroine is strapped to his table. Lightning flashes, Frankenstein-style, in the urgent climax as Burdon and Haddo grapple, with Porhoet fending off his henchmen until Haddo falls into his own furnace and the spell over Margaret is finally broken. As the virtuous flee the lair, the tower’s mounting occult energy causes it to explode.
Although THE MAGICIAN was made outside Germany, in the casting of Wegener as the glowering figure of supernatural influence, it is inspired by Expressionist themes as is the devilish frolicking in the nightmare faun sequence, reminiscent of HAXAN. The international exchange program of connections would go further as one of Ingram’s assistants was a young British film-maker Michael Powell, who would famously go on to create A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH and THE RED SHOES amongst other classics back home in England.