Wednesday 28 December 2011

The First Men in the Moon (1964)

The 1950s saw a rash of big-budget Victorian science fiction films, based on the works of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells (presumably the only early science fiction writers most movie producers had heard of), a genre kicked off by Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Most of these movies are excellent; all are at least watchable. The First Men in the Moon appeared in 1964 making it one of the last such movies. It’s one of the weakest as well, but it’s still well worth catching.

A framing story has been added, not that it’s really needed. In the 1960s when the first manned mission lands on the surface of the Moon they make an extraordinary discovery - a Union Jack. Even stranger, they find a proclamation, claiming the Moon in the name of Queen Victoria, and dated 1899! An investigation is launched and it is established that one of the people who reached the Moon in 1899 is still alive. He tells his amazing story.

Joseph Cavour (Lionel Jeffries) is an eccentric scientist who has made a potentially earth-shattering discovery. He has discovered a substance that has the same effect on gravity that lead sheeting has on x-rays - it blocks the force of gravity. He has named the substance cavourite, after himself.

Th only thing is, the production of cavourite is slightly hazardous (it tends to involve fairly regular explosions), and Cavour is concerned about his neighbours, the inhabitants of Cherry Cottage. So he makes an offer to buy the cottage. Thats’ how he makes the acquaintance of Arnold Bedford (Edward Judd) and Kate Callender (Martha Hyer). Arnold doesn’t actually own the cottage but he doesn’t allow a small detail like that to prevent him from selling it. But rather than keep the money he decides to invest it in Cavour’s experiments.

Arnold has various ideas as to what cavorite could be used for but Cavor knows what he wants to use it for - a trip to the Moon! Arnold is persuaded to join this expedition. The untimely arrival of the bailiffs means that a third passenger will be making the trip - Arnold can’t leave Kate behind to sort out his financial mess so she must accompany them.

The journey to the Moon is uneventful but some surprises await our adventurers upon arrival. They discover an underground world that has breathable air, and they also discover the insectoid inhabitants of the Moon, the Selenites.

As you’d expect in a movie with special effects by Ray Harryhausen, there are monsters. Well, only one real monster, which is perhaps a little disappointing.

The major problem with this movie is that it’s played just a little too much for laughs, especially in the first half. A little bit of Lionel Jeffries goes a long way. The other cast members are adequate enough.

Nathan Juran directed many science fiction movies in the 50s, most of which are great fun.

The sets have the steampunk feel that makes these Victorian science fiction films so appealing.

The Region 2 DVD includes a couple of featurettes although they’re the same ones included in the other movies released as part of the Ray Harryhausen Signature Collection. The widescreen presentation is impressive though.

All in all The First Men in the Moon offers plenty of entertainment value, even if Lionel Jeffries’ performance is a bit excessive.

Monday 26 December 2011

The Black Torment (1964)

The Black Torment is an almost forgotten 1964 British gothic horror flick, which is a great pity because it’s a good deal of fun.

It was produced by Tony Tenser who later went on to found Tigon British Film Productions, a company responsible for some of the most interesting British horror movies of the 60s and early 70s.

The film is set in 18th century England. Sir Richard Fordyke (John Turner) returns to his ancestral home with his new bride, the Lady Elizabeth (Heather Sears). Strange rumours have been circulating that he has been seen in the local area even though he has been away in London for some months. Strange and rather sinister rumours involving assaults on young women. And there are reports that he has been been seen being pursued on horseback by his deceased first wife, the Lady Anne.

The atmosphere at his home is somewhat strained. His father has had a stroke and cannot speak. He communicates in sign language, but the only person who can understand him is the sister of Sir Richard’s first wife. Anne Fordyke committed suicide by throwing herself out of a window and there are those who blame Sir Richard for her death. Sir Richard has the reputation of possessing a passionate and rather volatile temperament, something that is not improved by the rumours surrounding him.

The strange sightings of Sir Richard continue after his return, leading to much confusion and suspicion. Can the fiery nobleman be in two places at the same time? Is the Fordyke manor haunted, and if so, who or what is doing the haunting?

The movie has an appealingly manic quality to it, a quality that is increased by the tendency of virtually all the actors to overact outrageously. There’s an atmosphere of suppressed hysteria. Compared to other British gothic horror movies of its era, especially Hammer’s, it has a much more overheated feel.

The acting is terrific, as long as you like completely over-the-top performances (which I have no problem with). John Turner is the worst offender, or the most enjoyably excessive, depending on your point of view.

Director Robert Hartford-Davis had a fairly brief and uneven career which included Incense for the Damned (AKA Bloodsuckers), a movie that has few defenders but which I thought was quite interesting even if not totally successful.

Production values are quite high showing that Hammer weren’t the only ones able to make handsome period pictures on very low budgets. There’s also a fairly impressive sword fight. And there are some genuine chills.

On the whole it’s entertaining hokum and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Odeon have released this one as an all-regions PAL DVD in their Best of British series. It’s unfortunately fullframe and without extras but the picture quality is fine and it’s inexpensive.

Saturday 24 December 2011

Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

Diamonds Are Forever was the seventh Bond film, and the last official Bond film to star Sean Connery. It marked a definite move towards the camp sensibility that would come to dominate the series in the Roger Moore era.

Connery had very little interest in doing Bond movies by this time, but with George Lazenby unwilling to go on with the series after On Her Majesty’s Secret Service the producers offered Connery a great deal of money and he reluctantly agreed to return to the role. They had apparently been considering John Gavin, which would have been a spectacularly bad casting decision.

Diamonds Are Forever is based very very loosely on the fourth of Ian Fleming’s Bond novels. The movie opens with Bond killing Blofeld, but of course nobody is going to believe that such a splendid villain is really going to be killed off. With the threat from SPECTRE apparently neutralised Bond finds himself assigned to what seems to be a fairly routine case, involving diamond smuggling on a large scale.

Bond assumes he’s going to be sent to South Africa but in fact he ends up in Las Vegas where he has to make contact with the appropriately named Tiffany Case (Jill St John). He uncovers a mystery involving the disappearance of billionaire casino owner Willard Whyte and it soon becomes obvious that more than diamond smuggling is at stake.

Charles Gray makes an adequate Blofeld but he lacks the genuine menace that Telly Savalas brought to the role in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Jill St John and Lana Wood (as the wonderfully named Plenty O’Toole) provide the requisite glamour. Putter Smith and Bruce Glover are fun as the sinister gay assassins Mr Kidd and Mr Wint.

Connery may not have been enthusiastic about taking the role but there are no problems with his performance.

The action sequences are an odd mix of engaging silliness (the moon buggy chase) and high-powered excitement (with Bond and Tiffany being chased through the streets of Las Vegas in a bright-red Ford Mustang). The special effects in the climactic scenes have been much criticised but the main problem is that an oil rig is not really an exciting enough locale for the climax to a Bond movie.

The movie’s strengths generally outweigh its weaknesses, with production designer Ken Adam providing some memorable sets (especially the fish tank bed), and director Guy Hamilton and cinematographer Ted Moore both know exactly what they’re doing when making a Bond film.

The real star of the film is Las Vegas which provides a perfect setting with its mix of glamour, sleaze, excess and surreal extravagance. The circus in a casino is a definite highlight. The desperate fight in a tiny elevator cage is equally memorable, one of two very impressive fight scenes (the other being Bond’s fight with the two female gymnasts)

I have a soft spot for Diamonds Are Forever since it was the first Bond movie I ever saw. It still holds up rather well. Highly entertaining if occasionally silly fun.

Thursday 22 December 2011

Batman and Robin (1949)

Batman and Robin, made by Columbia in 1949, was the second movie serial to feature the caped crime-fighter. Lewis Wilson had played Batman in the original 1943 serial but for the 1949 version he was replaced by Robert Lowery.

This time the arch-villain is The Wizard, and he’s managed to get hold of a remote control device. This is not just any remote control device, this is the ultimate remote control device. It can take control of absolutely any piece of machinery. The Wizard is aiming eventually at power but he starts out using the device to blackmail the railroads into giving him vast sums of money.

Tracking down The Wizard is going to be a challenge since he can take control of any motor vehicle anywhere and bring it to a standstill. Commissioner Gordon is definitely going to need Batman’s help.

The remote control machine is powered by diamonds and it uses a lot of them, which is the reason that Gotham City has experienced so many diamond robberies recently.

The situation becomes even more serious when The Wizard steals the neutraliser from the man who invented the remote control machine, Professor Hamill. This gadget can do ore than just neutralise the effects of the remote control device. Combining the two devices has the effect of making things, or people, invisible!

This is a fairly typical movie serial of its era, very low-budget but hugely enjoyable. It looks very very cheap but that just adds to the fun. The plot has plenty of twists and turns. And there are silly gadgets (The Wizard has a submarine which really serves no purpose at all but submarines are cool so they threw one in).

Robert Lowery as Batman and Johnny Duncan as Robin take things very seriously and Lyle Talbot is a wonderful Commissioner Gordon. Lyle Talbot was one of the great B-movie actors. Jane Adams adds a touch of glamour as feisty newspaper photographer Vicki Vale. There are lots of B-movie heavies and plenty of hardboiled dialogue.

While the emphasis in serials was always on thrills and fun it doesn’t have the camp sensibility of the 1960s TV series. It has its own flavour and its own charm.

Columbia’s DVD release is superb. Picture and sound quality are terrific.

Monday 19 December 2011

This Island Earth (1955)

Universal’s This Island Earth was one of the more ambitious science fiction movies of the 50s. It’s been overshadowed by films such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Day the Earth Stood Still and Forbidden Planet but in its own way it’s just as interesting.

It’s also typical of American science fiction movies of that era in its ambiguous treatment of the theme of alien invasion. It’s one of several such movies that suggested that taken invaders might not necessarily be completely hostile, or at the very least that they might have some justification for their actions.

The first half of the movie is especially clever. An electronics engineer, Dr Cal Meacham, at a major laboratory orders a part. The part that arrives is far more advanced than anything he’s ever seen, and the company from which he ordered it denies any knowledge of it. He orders more parts and receives a catalogue ad instructions for constructing an apparatus. He has no idea what this apparatus will do but being an inquisitive kind of chappie he builds it anyway.

It turns out to be a communications device (which he is told is called an interociter) and a guy with a curiously pronounced forehead contacts him and tells him to be at a remote airstrip at a particular time where a plane will take him somewhere where he’ll discover all sorts of interesting things. Now the average person would be pretty suspicious of all this but like he said he’s an inquisitive fellow and so he goes. He’s taken to a laboratory where a group of mysterious people have assembled a team of top-flight atomic scientists.

One of the scientists is, naturally, a beautiful woman. Dr Ruth Adams (Faith Domergue) in fact is an old fame of Cal Meacham’s but strangely she claims never to have set eyes on him before. These scientists do seem to be behaving a bit oddly and several of them have started to suspect that something very strange is behind all this. And they’re right about that. The guys with the big foreheads are of course aliens, from the planet Metaluna.

At the halfway point the movie not only switches settings but also switches tone as the aliens are recalled to their own planet. Cal and Ruth are trying to make their escape in a light plane but it’s snared by a tractor beam from the aliens’ flying saucer and they find themselves on the way to Metaluna. And they discover that the aliens aren’t evil, they’re merely desperate. They are engaged in a war with the planet Zagon and they’re losing. The laboratory on earth was part of a last-ditch attempt to find a way to save their civilisation.

This Island Earth was filmed in Technicolor and Universal did their best to give it an epic feel. Mostly they succeeded although the special effects occasionally let them down. The alien planet is rendered mostly with matte paintings and although they look obviously artificial the imaginative nature of the paintings does give an eerie other-worldly feel. Personally I like the use of matte paintings even when they’re obvious. And there are some pretty impressive sets.

There are also some very cool concepts, such as the use of comets and meteors as weapon of mass destruction. That’s the great strength of this movie - the aliens use technologies that seem genuinely alien, rather than death rays and similar gadgets.

The acting is quite passable with most of the players appearing to do their best to take proceedings as seriously as possible.

With an intelligent thoughtful script and plenty of visual imagination this movie represents 1950s Hollywood sci-fi at its best.

Universal’s UK DVD release is coded for Regions 2, 4 and 5 and although there’s a lack of extras it’s a very impressive widescreen transfer and I recommend it unhesitatingly.

Saturday 17 December 2011

The Earth Dies Screaming (1964)

Terence Fisher will always be best remembered for his Hammer horror films but he made quite a few science fiction movies, including this 1964 effort, The Earth Dies Screaming.

It’s an end of the world movie, an incredibly popular genre at the time. A mysterious gas attack has wiped out most of Earth’s population, but as in any good post-apocalyptic movie there’s a motley handful of survivors. The gas attack has been followed up by an invasion of robot men. We assume they’re from outer space although we never get to see any spaceships.

In fact what the audience sees is exactly what the survivors see. The movie doesn’t tell us or show us anything that is outside of their immediate experience.

The survivors aren’t entirely the sorts of people you’d pick to save civilisation. Jeff Nolan (Willard Parker) is a no-nonsense engineer type and he’s the only one who really has any clue about what to do. Edgar (Thorley Walters) is a nice guy but a total mess, Quinn Taggart (Dennis Price) is completely untrustworthy, there’s a nice young couple who are OK as long as someone tells them what to do but on the whole one feels that these people have the odds stacked against them.

But they’re British and if Hitler couldn’t beat them they’re certainly not going to let a bunch of robots do it.

This movie is in some ways a precursor of the wave of zombie movies that would infest cinema screens in the 70s and 80s. It’s almost a dry run for Night of the Living Dead. The people killed by the robots come back to life as zombies.

This is a very low-budget movie but it’s not unduly hampered by this. The robots look reasonably good, the zombies are distinguished only by their eyes, and Terence Fisher manages to make both seem convincingly menacing.

The acting is adequate enough with Dennis Price being highly entertaining as always.

An entertaining enough blend of science and horror.

The Region 2 DVD from Final Cut is a perfectly acceptable widescreen transfer.

Monday 12 December 2011

The Fly (1958)

The Fly (I’m speaking of course of the original 1958 version) is a rather odd Vincent Price science fiction/horror movie. Price plays a minor supporting role and is neither the villain nor the doomed hero.

The actual hero is Andre Delambre (played by David Hedison although at that time he was calling himself Al Hedison). Andre is a scientist. Not a mad scientist, but a scientist who is dabbling in Things that Science Should Not Dabble In. His current project is teleportation. He has succeeded in teleporting objects over short distances, but with mixed results. Sometimes the objects are reversed during the process. When he tries to teleport his pet cat the results are entirely unsuccessful.

You’d think this would have acted as a warning that maybe this process is rather dangerous but despite this Andre decides to use himself as an experimental test subject. The first attempt is successful, but when he tries to repeat the experiment he unfortunately fails to notice that a fly is in the chamber with him. This is a very unlucky oversight since now his atoms and the fly’s atoms are mixed up. He is part man and part fly, and so is the fly.

Everything would be OK if he could find the fly. He could simply repeat the process and hopefully everything would then come unscrambled. But you’d be amazed just how difficult it can be to find one particular fly again.

The story is told in flashback, with the movie starting with what is actually the horrifying (and very gruesome) end of Andre’s story.

The story is really too ambitious for the special effects that were available at the time, but the story is strong enough to largely overcome that problem.

In most of these scientific hubris movies the scientist is clearly working in areas that raise moral questions about the limits of science, but this one is interesting because Andre is not really doing that. He’s not playing around with the building blocks of life or trying to play God by conquering death or creating artificial life. He’s not doing anything that anyone could raise any valid moral objections to it. So his downfall is brought about purely by bad luck. The most you could say is that he is perhaps being too ambitious.

The story raises potentially interesting questions about what makes us human but it largely ignores such issues. That’s one of the things that that makes David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake a more interesting film.

David Hedison makes a reasonably effective scientist doomed hero. Vincent Price is good as always but the movie doesn’t really give him much opportunity for demonstrating his acting skills. Patricia Owens as Andre’s wife has the most interesting role, a woman facing a murder charge who has to try to convince the sympathetic detective (played by Herbert Marshall) that her strange tale is true and that therefore it wasn’t really murder.

The most emotionally charged scene, the one with the spider’s web, remains affecting despite the rather crude special effects.

While the science is very silly that’s not really the main point of the movie which is more concerned with the tragic fate of Andre and the appalling dilemma faced by his wife, and it’s that aspect that distinguishes it from most other science fiction movies of its era and makes it worth seeing.

Fox’s DVD release is barebones but it’s a decent enough print and preserves the film’s correct Cinemascope aspect ratio.

Friday 9 December 2011

Shout at the Devil (1976)

Shout at the Devil is an old-fashioned action adventure movie. Even by the standards of 1976 it’s an old-fashioned representative of its genre. And that’s why it’s so wonderfully entertaining.

This is not a movie that wants to deconstruct the action movie. There is absolutely no irony to this film. It’s completely unashamed to be exactly what it is, a rollicking tale of adventure.

Flynn O’Flynn (Lee Marvin) is an American big game hunter in East Africa in 1913. He lives in Portuguese East Africa but he regularly crosses the border into German East Africa in search of ivory. He’s not exactly scrupulous about minor details like laws and borders, and his activities are often quite close to outright thieving. He’s also drunk most of the time, but he’s a happy drunk. He’s your typical loveable rogue, the kind of person the modern world has less and less time for, but in 1913 the world was a different place and such a man as Flynn O’Flynn could thrive in that world.

His latest venture is even less legal than usual and to carry it off he needs to ship his ill-gotten ivory downriver and to do this he needs an Englishman so he can maintain the fiction that his vessel is operating under the British flag. That’s where Sebastian Oldsmith (Roger Moore) comes in. Oldsmith is conned into participating but in fact he’s a bit of a rogue himself. Before falling in with O’Flynn he was on his way to Australia, his family having raised the passage money. They wanted him as far away as possible. Oldsmith and O’Flynn make perfect partners.

For Oldsmith there’s another attraction, O’Flynn’s beautiful daughter Rosa. He and Rosa are soon married and Sebastian is happily settling into a life of big game hunting and assorted illegal ventures. But O’Flynn and Oldsmith have a nemesis - Commandant Fleischer, the German military governor in the neighbouring portion of German East Africa. O’Flynn and Fleischer have clashed many times in the past and they hate each other with a venom that increases day by day.

On one of their jaunts into German territory O’Flynn and Oldsmith have their first encounter with the German battlecruiser Blücher when it rams and sinks their dhow.

The declaration of war in 1914 gives Fleischer the excuse he has always wanted to cross the frontier and settle accounts with the troublesome O’Flynn. The tragic results of this expedition will seal Fleischer’s fate as O’Flynn and Oldsmith vow to hunt him down and kill him. As it happens their quest for revenge dovetails quite nicely with the Royal Navy’s plans. They believe the Blücher is taking refuge in an East African river and they want it sunk but they have no warships in the vicinity powerful enough to take on a battlecruiser, so O’Flynn and Oldsmith are recruited to do the job by sabotage, a task they can combine with revenge since Fleischer is believed to be on board.

The first two-thirds of this movie is pure silly fun with a nice mix of action and humour. It then takes a rather darker turn as it moves towards its apocalyptic climax but the excitement doesn’t let up.

The miniatures work is very impressive, as you’d expect when the man responsible for it is Derek Meddings, who started out on Gerry Anderson’s 1960s puppet adventure series and moved on from there to the Roger Moore James Bond movies.

Lee Marvin and Roger Moore make a great team. They might be rogues but they’re still the good guys and we want them to win. Rene Kolldehoff is delightfully over-the-top as Fleischer. Fleischer is not exactly a subtle villain, but this is not a movie that is overly worried about subtlety.

This is one of the most politically incorrect movies you’re ever going to see, a movie that could not possibly get made today. So that’s another point in its favour.

Umbrella Entertainment’s Region 4 DVD release is an uncut widescreen release and while the picture quality isn’t sensational it’s quite reasonable. It appears that some of the other DVD releases of this movie have been savagely cut and are very poor quality so the Umbrella disc is probably the one to go for. I suspect that online reviewers who complain about this movie’s supposed incoherence have only seen the cut version because the full version certainly cannot be accused of such a fault. It might be far-fetched but it all makes perfect sense.

This is a movie to enjoy for what it is. On its own terms it succeeds admirably and it’s thoroughly enjoyable.

Tuesday 6 December 2011

S.O.B. (1981)

Blake Edwards made some amazingly popular and well-loved movies but personally I don’t find those movies all that interesting. You couldn’t pay me to sit through one of the Pink Panther movies again. For me his most interesting works were those that were most reviled by the critics, notably Darling Lili. And of course S.O.B.

S.O.B., Edwards’ hate letter to Hollywood, was undoubtedly partly inspired by his unhappy experiences with Darling Lili. Of all the many “I hate Hollywood” movies that have been made over the years by Hollywood film-makers S.O.B. may well be the most bitter of the lot.

Given the fact that one of the stars of S.O.B. is William Holden, also the star of BiIly Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, this is clearly a movie drawing on a tradition of anti-Hollywood movies.

Felix Farmer is a very successful Hollywood producer. Very successful until the release of his most expensive and most ambitious film, Night Wind. This movie’s opening is the most disastrous in the history of Tinsel Town.

The response of the studio execs is to panic, try to shift the blame elsewhere, call in lawyers and hope that something might be salvaged by recutting the film. It’s all Standard Operational Bullshit, hence the movie’s title. Felix Farmer’s response is to go mad and try to kill himself.

The response of his wife, much-loved incredibly wholesome G-rated movie star Sally Miles (Julie Andrews), is to file for divorce. Until she realises that might do her career even more harm.

Felix finally snaps out of his suicidal depression when he has a revelation. He now knows how to save his movie. The problem with Night Wind was that it was wholesome and sweet and G-rated. If Felix can turn it into a soft-porn movie it will be a huge success. And he has an even more brilliant idea. Imagine if he could persuade his dear wife Sally Miles to do a nude scene. That would have to be worth a couple of hundred million at the box office.

Of course Sally Miles has exactly the sort of screen image that Julie Andrews had in real life so she’s absolutely horrified by the idea. On the other hand she’s even more horrified by the prospect of losing a great deal of her own money if Night Wind cannot be turned into a hit. So she agrees.

S.O.B.’s humour is dark, vicious, bitter and vindictive, but it is undeniably funny. Blake Edwards, who wrote the screenplay as well as directing, was never particularly subtle when it came to comedy and this time around he adopts a sledge-hammer approach to satire. But given that his target is Hollywood perhaps nothing short of a sledge hammer would do the trick.

There’s a galaxy of stars in the supporting cast. Overloading a movie with stars can be a recipe for disaster but mostly they do a fine job. The standout performer is Robert Preston as dissolute Hollywood doctor Dr Irving Finegarten. Robert Vaughn as the sleazy studio chief and Loretta Swit as the toxic gossip columnist are both amusing. Shelley Winters and Larry Hagman add to the fun. William Holden makes a splendid cynical drunk.

Richard Mulligan is convincingly unhinged as Felix while Julie Andrews has fun trashing her own image.

While it’s mostly notorious as being the movie in which we get to see Mary Poppins bare-breasted this is a thoroughly enjoyable if somewhat out-of-control ride and I recommend it.

The Region 1 DVD is bereft of extras and is somewhat difficult to find. There’s a European DVD release floating around as well but it appears to be a heavily cut version so the Region 1 disc is the one to go for.

Saturday 3 December 2011

Magic (1978)

Magic is an evil-ventriloquists’-dummy movie. The problem with evil-ventriloquists’-dummy movies is that they’re fairly predictable, and Magic is more predictable than most.

The only real question with such movies is whether the dummy represents some supernatural force or whether it represents a part of the ventriloquist’s own personality. Whichever option the film-maker chooses the plot will hold few surprises.

In this case we have Corky Withers (Anthony Hopkins) who has spent years being a magician’s assistant before finally summoning up the courage to try to make it on on his own. His first attempt is a disaster and he not only bombs he also loses his cool and insults the audience. This is our first clue that Corky may be a little unstable and it comes much too early.

Within a year Corky has become a modest success, a success that is entirely due to his new partner Fats. Fats is a ventriloquist’s dummy, but his foul-mouthed hyper-confident persona provides the perfect foil to Corky’s insecure, painfully shy and socially inept persona.

Corky’s success has gained him an agent, Ben Greene (Burgess Meredith). Greene is confident he can take Corky from his present level of success to the next level - success in the world of network television. The prospect of success terrifies Corky and he flees back to his home town. When he gets there he encounters his high school sweetheart Peg (Ann-Margret). He’s never forgotten he and she’s never forgotten him.

Corky and Peg rekindle their high school romance but unfortunately Peg now has a husband. It’s not just an awkward romantic triangle, it’s a romantic quadrangle, since Fats is every bit as jealous as Peg’s husband. Ben Greene manages to track Corky down in his rural hideaway and is horrified to discover that Corky is totally out of control. He wants Corky to seek psychiatric help and in one of the movie’s more memorable scenes he challenges Corky to keep Fats quiet for five minutes. Corky is of course unable to do so.

The Corky/Fats relationship spirals further and further out of control while the return of Peg’s husband puts even more pressure on Corky.

Not unexpectedly all this eventually leads to violence, murder and madness.

The first choice for the role of Corky was Jack Nicholson, but Anthony Hopkins shows he can overact every bit as outrageously as Nicholson. It’s a bravura performance but the weak point to it is that Corky is really not a very sympathetic character. Luckily Ann-Margret is on hand to lend the movie some much-needed balance. She provides the emotional core of the movie because she’s the only character who is even halfway to being a decent human being. She’s an underrated actress and she gives a splendid performance.

Burgess Meredith is never less than entertaining and he has a lot of fun as the brash agent with a love for enormous cigars. The relationship between Corky and Greene is one of the more successful elements in this movie.

As for Fats, the idea of having a foul-mouthed ventriloquist’s dummy must have seemed terribly clever back in the 70s but it’s an an idea that gets old very quickly.

Richard Attenborough is one of Britain’s greatest actors but as a director he’s less than inspired although certainly competent.

Magic fails to produce the necessary cinematic magic to make its story truly compelling and the horror is all too predictable. As an exercise in psychological horror it lacks impact since Corky is clearly not playing with a full deck even before the arrival of Fats.

Umbrella Entertainment’s Region 4 DVD is full frame and generally unimpressive and cannot be recommended under any circumstances.