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Thursday, January 16, 2020

Chills That Don't Need Talk


The Magician (1926) Charts Course For Horrors To Come





Rex Ingram was a silent era director with flair for visuals and design. His legacy suffers because prints don't do justice to beauty original nitrates had. Ingram rode the 20's in a golden chariot after The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse hit huge early in that decade and made him a favorite of Marcus Loew, who later merged with other concerns to form Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Ingram would be installed there on pretty much his own terms. He disdained oversee by others, an affront to MGM policy, but Loew, and later Nicholas Schenck, protected Ingram from those who would leash him (specifically Louis Mayer). Ingram had enough discipline to keep his output on time and budget, so was not a soft target like Erich Von Stroheim, plus his features did business. Ingram made a leading lady, and eventual wife, of popular Alice Terry, and she'd stay loyal through a row of vehicles that gave security to both. Would that other filmmakers of the period have been so lucky as Rex Ingram. A few of his are available from Warner Archive and turn up occasional at TCM. Others exist but in less wide circulation. The Magician excites modern interest for doing first what horror films in the 30's co-opted as formula. Look at this one and see future that was Frankenstein, Dracula, Doctor X, any number of chillers that worked off Ingram blueprint.




The Magician begins as melodrama that turns full-out horror for a third act that is 1926 preview of a rich cycle to come. Critics found The Magician distasteful because they weren't used to frights so explicit. Paul Wegener of past Golem stalkings is the mad doctor who would extract maiden's blood, via Alice Terry, to create new life, his hilltop lab a blueprint for one Universal later built for Bride Of Frankenstein. There's even a humpback assistant. No way did James Whale miss or ignore The Magician. What Ingram had that Whale and others would not was Euro locations to further authenticate his moody backdrops. The director had decamped from Hollywood to escape prying eyes, MGM permitting the move thanks to Ingram's winning streak. The Magician is to my guess a lot better than London After Midnight would be in event someone found that long-sought one. Barrier might be that nobody thinks of Rex Ingram as a scare director. What with Wegener, the mad science, a Hell segment Ingram salts the first half with, The Magician is very much a must for anyone charting chillers from a silent start. Major spike of the DVD is a terrific score by Robert Israel that utilizes classical themes later to enhance The Black Cat. Israel's accompany puts The Magician all the more solid with horror traditions to come.

5 Comments:

Blogger DBenson said...

The only Ingram I know is the 1922 "Prisoner of Zenda", cursed by a weak script that dilutes much of the good stuff. Was that shot in Hollywood or Europe? Always assumed it was Hollywood.

4:05 PM  
Blogger Lee R said...

I only know the name Rex Ingram from the John Wayne/Randolph Scott movie "The Spoilers".

7:59 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

David Lean cited Rex Ingram as a major influence.

7:12 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer considers inspirations for THE MAGICIAN:


The inspiration for the Oliver Haddo character portrayed by Paul Wegener in “The Magician” was Aleister Crowley. W. Somerset Maugham, the author of the novel from which the film was adapted, met Crowley in Paris in 1903 and said that he took an instant dislike to him. Crowley was poet, mountain climber, and student of the occult who was already thought by many to be the “wickedest man in the world.” He was also a man of contrasts, seeking enlightenment through meditation in the mountains and other wild places, but only when he wasn’t giving himself over to drug-induced erotomystical fantasies. The interplay between sex and spirituality fascinated him, and he was never without partners willing to explore such boundaries as there were. He called his own peculiar synthesis of various mystical schools “Magick,” which summoned its students to embrace the imagination and glorify the will.

Maugham found Crowley to be sardonic and witty, but with such an over-the-top persona that he could never be sure when he was sincere or merely having sly fun with others. In 1907, he began writing his novel, creating in Haddo someone who was like Crowley, but, he said, more striking in appearance, more sinister, and more ruthless than Crowley ever was. When the novel was published a year later, Crowley reviewed it for “Vanity Fair,” under the pseudonym, “Oliver Haddo,” and noted the various sources Maugham had extensively transcribed or paraphrased; or, to put it another way, had plagiarized. However, he acknowledged the general accuracy of the portrayal and professed to find in it an appreciation of his genius such as he never dreamed of inspiring.

I’ve seen only a few moments of “The Magician,” but they suggested a film of great style and interest. Aleister Crowley also inspired the Hjalmar Poelzig character in Edgar G. Ulmer’s “The Black Cat,” a film that I’ve seen many times over the years, and never without profit to myself. It is, in a sense, a bizarre fantasia upon the horrors and guilt of the First World War, when those who survived with such memories were as the living dead. Certainly, such a visually austere and intriguing film is a masterwork of the genre, and of film itself.

5:30 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Okay. You got me going. This one has been on my bucket list for years... finally got the DVD. Love that finale!

10:48 PM  

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