Heat, Marathon Man, No Way To Treat A Lady, Princess Bride, William Goldman had quite a range. And all of these were, of course, movies. In fact, Heat became two movies, one with Burt Reynolds and one with Jason Statham. But I’m going to focus on a somewhat overlooked title that also hit the screen, and that’s Magic.
I saw Magic when it came out in 1978 which means I would have been 13 which means I would have had to sneak in cuz it was rated R. Fear not. I was only mildly unethical when this kind of situation cropped up (as it did with some frequency until I was 18). I’d still buy a ticket then wait and switch theaters when nobody was paying attention.
It’s been a minute since I’ve seen this, so I decided to give it the ol’ rewatch a couple nights ago. I remember it was pretty good, but I’d forgotten how good.
Anthony Hopkins is Corky, an amateur magician in search of a hook for the act. He adds a ventriloquist’s dummy to the act in the form of Fats. Mainly Fats serves as misdirection, but he’s also everything Corky (acting as the straight man) is not–a vulgar, crude wise-ass.
Corky and Fats hit it big: bigger venues, talk shows, Vegas. Ultimately they are poised for the big time with a network wanting Corky to do a pilot for a variety show. Of course, there’s a problem. The network requires a medical exam. Is that actually a thing? Corky refuses on the basis of principle–that the network is suggesting there’s something wrong with him.
More than a little paranoid, yeah?
In protest, Corky heads off to his hometown where he attempts to reconnect with his high school crush, Peggy (Ann-Margret ♥ ♥). Don’t worry. That actually doesn’t come from as far out in left field as it may sound. However, this starts to make Fats a little concerned and jealous. This becomes clear through the conversations between Fats and Corky.
I know, right?
On one hand, this isn’t new ground. Ventriloquist dummies are always creepy as hell. I don’t know that I’m willing to say that’s universal, but I personally don’t know anyone who isn’t at least a little uneasy at the sight of one. As for the warped human/dummy relationship, the kind where the ventriloquist voices their real self through the dummy, that idea has been around since 1929 with The Great Gabbo.
It’s no surprise that Corky steadily becomes more and more paranoid and unhinged, and the border between himself and Fats becomes more and more blurred. One scene in the last act particularly stands out. If you don’t think Corky looks like Fats (they even have matching sweaters), you at least have to admit he looks disturbingly like a ventriloquist dummy.
At one point, Corky shifts his eyes left and really nails this dummy-like appearance. It’s unnerving. I will add that Burgess Meredith is entertaining as Corky’s agent, and there’s a brief appearance by a fairly new, at the time, M*A*S*H arrival, David Ogden Stiers.
There’s really not much else I can say without giving away far too much for folks who haven’t gotten to this overlooked little gem. If you haven’t seen it yet, track it down, schmucko.
3 (technically I guess 4) onscreen
Available on HBO, HBO Max, and for rent on Prime