So here we go, the simplest 10 movies about ‘magic’ of ‘all time’. That’s a large order and can in fact become an inventory which will be challenged by many.
What I even have tried to try to to is collate an inventory of flicks that feature films which have magical themes or very clear magical references in them. in fact the rash of Harry Potter films, the superb Lord of the Rings trilogy and even Star Wars might be included. However, from a desire to expand the list of magician inspired or magically themed movies I even have left these out as being ‘too obvious’.
For reasons of brevity I even have also not included fully animated movies during this list, therefore the likes of Fantasia, Sword within the Stone and even The Illusionist (Sylvian Chomet’s 2010 film) aren’t considered.
I’ve also ignored television series, like the Magician (Bill Bixby trained by Mark Wilson), Jonathan Creek, the quirky 1970’s TV series Ace of Wands also as specific Colombo, Midsummer Murders, One Foot within the Grave episodes that were based around magic and magicians.
So this brings us to a fast round-up of a number of the simplest of the magician-in-the-movies films I’m conscious of. Starting with those just outside the highest Ten – not due to any lack of quality, simply because they’re a touch peripheral to the most list.
Passport to Pimlico (1949) directed by Henry Cornelius and featuring great performances from Stanley Holloway and Margaret Rutherford. This great Ealing comedy contains a sequence on the tube train where magician of the day the good Masoni, drops his case allowing his doves to flee adding to the surreal nature of the comic moment.
Dead of Night (1945) directed by Alberto Cavancanti may be a superb Ealing portmanteau horror movie which contains a series of stories a few dream told by a guest arriving at remote farmhouse. The film is claimed to possess influenced cosmologists Hoyle, Gold and Bondi to develop the ‘steady state theory’. They were inspired by the circular nature of the films narrative. However the movie contains a story a few ventriloquist and a but charming dummy. Ventriloquism is said to the magical arts, hence its inclusion here. The story is that the forerunner of 1 that’s actually within the list, Magic, starring Hopkins .
Thirty Nine Steps (1939) directed by Hitchcock . the first and maybe greatest version of this film the climax of which is takes place as during a theater where a ‘memory man’ is performing. The Memory Act are often considered as a subset of the magical art of Mentalism. the good magician Harry Lorraine is world famous not just for his ‘magic’ act but also for his contribution to the training and development of the human memory.
The Raven (1963) directed by Roger Corman sees the good Vincent Price, Lorre and Karloff as medieval magicians involved a magical duel. This fun, camp and colorful movie loosely supported the Edgar Allen Poe poem The Raven, isn’t the best example of the Corman-Price collection, but is great fun.
Night of the Demon (1957) Jaques Tourneur. This great movie is an adaptation of MR James’ story “Casting the Runes”. Starring Dana Andrews as a skeptical psychologist ‘cursed’ by the Faustian looking magician and ‘cult’ leader Julian Karswell (Nial MacGinnis). In one sequence Karswell dressed as Dr Bobo performs magic at a children’s party. The conversation which then ensues between the psychologist and therefore the magician holds within it a number of performance frames and concepts for budding bizarrists out there !. Tourneur apparently never wanted the audience to ‘see’ the demon. I some ways I wish he had had his way. The film would be even creepier and scarier if the fear was left to the imagination – again bizarre magicians take note!
The Magician (1958) directed by Bergman . the sole reason that film is outside the highest ten is due to the likelihood of being considered as being ‘pretentious’ if it’s placed where i feel it belongs – within the top 5 at least! Max von Sydow plays a traveling magician and ‘magnetic-healer’ (harkening back to the times of Mesmer) trapped during a tale about prejudice, honesty, the category system and ….. well the entire thing is multilayered. Sydow is brilliant, he rarely speaks, and Bergman’s visuals are great. The film has been called a ‘thinking mans horror movie /. it’s creepy surreal and brilliantly acted and directed.
The Great Buck Howard (2008) directed by Sean McGinly is made around John Malkovich’s character who is successively based upon the mentalist Kreskin.
Next (2007) directed by Lee Tamahori sees Nicholas Cage as a person who can see a couple of minutes into the longer term and disguises his gift by working as a lounge magician. Cage is seen as another quite ‘magician’ within the fantasy movie The Sorcerers Apprentice (2010 directed by Jon Turtletaub) which makes direct references to the Disney Sorcerers Apprentice in Fantasia.
Magic Man (2010) directed by Roscoe Lever stars Billy Zane who plays Darius, the Magic Man of the title. Billed as a thriller, this movie has received the simplest of reviews. As I’ve not seen it yet i can not comment – but maybe a future review of this list may even see it included.
So onto the highest Ten
10. Excelsior Prince of Magicians 1901 directed by Georges Melies. This pioneer of film making was a magician before turning his hand to cine-magic. He produced many short films of which this is often just one , but many of which featured movie versions of stage tricks that magicians would like to be ready to actually do. He was one among the primary film makers to feature stop frame, time lapse and multiple exposures. He also hand painted many of the black and white films he shot. a real innovator.
9. The Grim Game 1919 directed by Irvin Wilat. Not the best of flicks to observe, but from a magician’s point of view a requirement. It featured Houdini within the name part showcasing his feats of escapology. Houdini, not only an excellent magician but an excellent entrepreneur embraced early cinema but to be quite honest he made little lasting contribution to cinematic art. In some ways, perhaps, Melies earlier ‘trick photography’ lessened a number of the dramatic impact Houdini’s live performances will have had.
8. Lord of Illusions (1995) directed by Clive Barker and supported his novel of an equivalent name. This film is notable for its magical references. Not only does the ‘evil’ lead character Nix have supernatural powers, but his disciples have them. one among his disciples, Swann, after Nix’s early demise (prior to his later resurrection) uses his magical powers to become a well-liked illusionist. The staged magic sequences are well done, there’s a cameo appearance by the good Billy McCombe and therefore the Magic Castle is represented as an area of secrets. the essential concept that ‘magic may be a dangerous reality’ may be a great theme for the Bizarre Magicians out there.
7. Cast a Deadly Spell (1991) directed by Martin Cambell, sees Detective, Harry Philip Lovecraft (played by Fred Ward) living during a 1940’s l. a. where magic is common place. he’s recruited by an upscale man to seek out a lost book – yeap, you’ve it … The Necronomicon! It’s really a Bogart-esque film-noire with a magical flavor, in fact by definition then there are magicians. It’s witty, fun and filled with Lovecraftian references. Unfortunately at the time of writing it, unlike its less sharp sequel (Witch Hunt) isn’t available for purchase on DVD.
Witch Hunt (1994) directed Paul Schrader. A sequel to Cast a Deadly Spell during which detective, H. Phillip Lovecraft played by Dennis Hopper combats the evils and corruption of a magic wielding senator. As a sequel not shoddy, but perhaps almost as fun because of the first movie.
6. the good Kandinski (1995) directed by Terry Windsor. This ‘made for TV’ movie must be included during this list, not just for its charm and humor, except for its sensitivities. Richard Harris (whose work is admirable) plays a retired escapologist living during a home . The story revolves around Kandiski’s desire to ‘chase another secret’ and do one ‘final show’. The escape featured is Houdini’s Water Torture cell, which may be a testament to the long-lasting nature of that one illusion.
5. Nightmare Alley (1947) directed by Edmund Goulding. a powerful movie and maybe one among the all time greatest samples of film noire. Tyrone Power plays a ‘psychic con man’ Stanton Carlyle whose trail of deceit and self deceit take from rags to riches to rags. in fact the magicians out there’ll immediately see a link to a performer who wont to leave under the name Rinaldo, but was better known professionally and now to mentalists’ world wide as Stanton Carlisle. (1928 – 1990). Stanton insisted, despite many good natured challenges, that that was his real name and wasn’t influenced by the Golding film.
4. House of Games (1978) directed by Mamet. OK not really a magic film, but features a performance of 1 of my all time magic heroes, Ricky Jay. Ricky is one among a gaggle of con-men during this Hitchcockesque thriller. Mamet, as always does an excellent job in capturing mood and therefore the movie explores human motivations and behaviors. Ricky Jay is in fact no stranger to the large screen, with roles within the Bond Movie, Tomorrow Never Dies, Magnolia, Buck Howard, The Prestige and lots of more. This, I think however was his first venture onto the ‘big screen’
3. Houdini (1953) directed by Marshall with Tony Curtis in as Houdini. This movie does have tons to account therein it creates a number of the longer lasting myths about the lifetime of the genuinely ‘mythic’ Houdini. His death on stage as a result of performing the ‘water torture cell’ isn’t fact, but the movie certainly hints at it. The ‘brush with death’ during a frozen river; the primary performance of the ‘straight jacket’ at a Magicians Society dinner almost surely never happened – but the romance and innocence of the instant saves it. The magical advisor on this movie was Dunninger.
I suppose it’s worth mentioning en passant that in 1998 there was a TV movie about Houdini (directed by Pen Denshem) and an earlier attempt at a biopic remake in 1976 with Paul Michael Glaser within the name part (directed for television by Melvile Shavelson) . The movie Death Defying Acts (2007) directed by Gillian Armstrong focuses on Houdini’s documented interest in mediums and psychics and he’s really the vehicle through which another story is often told.
2. Magic (1978) directed by Richard Attenborough and staring Hopkins. within the film, Hopkins’ character starts out as a magician, but sees success as a ventriloquist. The movie charts the autumn into insanity because the relationship Hopkins has together with his dummy ‘Fats’. it is a classic movie with a number of the creepier overtones being softened by, what some claim to be, slower sequences of sentimentality.
1. The Illusionist (2006) directed by Neil Burger and staring Ed Norton. The pace and therefore the feel of this film is wonderful. it’s a romance with some great performances from an outstanding cast. The magical advice came from Ricky Jay and Michael Webber. Norton as Eisenhiem is that the ideal stage magician. The cinematography is brilliant, the plot nicely involved and with, perhaps a couple of surprises.
1. The Prestige (2006) coordinated by Christopher Nolan. While The Illusionist is lavish and connecting with and at its centre ‘confident’ and ‘sentimental’, The Prestige is darker and manages retribution, jealousy and intensity. Incredible exhibitions from Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as the quarrelling entertainers each with a ‘mystery’ and a story that is non-straight make the film connecting with and certainly justified regardless of the little exertion you have to stay aware of the tangled snare of interest. The ‘glory’, the finale of the film, contains disclosures that may shock. Smart scripting breathes life into the passionate pressure and the rich mystical references (Chung Ling Soo, The Bullet Catch, The Water Torture) make this film an absolute necessity for entertainers. Ricky Jay shows up as a setup stage entertainer and Michael Caine is incredible as the figment developer – despite the fact that I could never request that he manufactured me an evaporating feathered creature confine!
I truly can’t separate these two movies as far as nature of acting, course and story so they share ahead of everyone else charging with the less genuine…
Performers (2007) really merit a Gold Star in this rundown. Coordinated by Andrew O Connor and with content written in a joint effort with David Britland, Andy Nyman and Anthony Owen and others this is a mystical visit depower. Settling on a comic gander at the universe of the conjuror, Magicians, sees Mitchell and Webb clatter through some extraordinary jokes; give recognition to some key performers and have a genuine thump at a portion of the peculiarity that is a vital part of the enchantment scene. The incomparable Pat Page shows up, and a large portion of the enchantment ‘slows down’ at the enchantment show facilitating the opposition at the focal point of the plot of the movie were given by notable enchantment vendors.