Directed by Richard Attenborough
Written by William Goldman
Starring Anthony Hopkins, Burgess Meredith, Ann-Margaret.
Ever since The Great Gabbo, ventriloquists in film* always seem to have the same problem: the dummy becoming a representative of their own multiple personalities. Magic is one take on the genre, overcoming the cliche with good writing and an excellent cast.
In the film, Corky Withers (Anthony Hopkins) is an aspiring stage comic who comes up with ventriloquism as a gimmick for his career. His dummy, Fats, is foul mouthed and rude, and makes Corky into a star. But just as his agent Ben (Burgess Meredith) lines up a prime time TV show for him, he vanished into the Catskills.
The reason is that he keeps hearing Fats talking to him, even when he's not holding the dummy. Corky fears he's on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Meeting an old girlfriend (Ann-Margaret) seems to help at first, but soon things get worse. Very much worse.
The interesting part about the film is that it's never entirely clear whether Fats is part of Corky's personality, or some sort of supernatural being. Except for one shot, he is being manipulated by Corky, but that one shot -- where Fats appears to move -- hints that maybe it's something else.**
This was the first American starring role for Anthony Hopkins, and he does a fine job showing Corky and a man on the edge. Ann-Margaret was at the peak of her career, and great to watch as the woman who inadvertently sets the tragedy in motion.
The script is by William Goldman, a purveyor of first-class movie scripts, and best known for The Princess Bride and Marathon Man. Director Attenborough took the job partially to raise money for his bigger project: Gandhi. The film also started getting Hopkins noticed in the US, and his next starring role, in The Elephant Man, put his career into high gear.
Though the story is a bit old hat, the great talents involved make it a solid psychological horror film.
*Except for Edgar Bergan
** My feeling is that there's no supernatural explanation and the movement is merely gravity doing its thing.