Indie Birds – The Best 10 Movies About Magic of All Time
So here we go, the best 10 movies about ‘magic’ of ‘all time’. That’s a tall order and will of course become a list that will be challenged by many.
What I have tried to do is collate a list of movies that feature films which have magical themes or very obvious magical references in them. Of course the rash of Harry Potter films, the excellent Lord of the Rings trilogy and even Star Wars could be included. However, from a desire to expand the list of magician inspired or magically themed movies I have left these out as being ‘too obvious’.
For reasons of brevity I have also not included fully animated movies in this list, so the likes of Fantasia, Sword in the Stone and even The Illusionist (Sylvian Chomet’s 2010 film) are not considered.
I’ve also ignored television series, such as The Magician (Bill Bixby trained by Mark Wilson), Jonathan Creek, the quirky 1970’s TV series Ace of Wands as well as specific Colombo, Midsummer Murders, One Foot in the Grave episodes that were based around magic and magicians.
So this brings us to a quick round-up of some of the best of the magician-in-the-movies films I am aware of. Starting with those just outside the Top Ten – not because of any lack of quality, just because they are a little peripheral to the main list.
The Raven (1963) directed by Roger Corman sees the great Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff as medieval magicians involved a magical duel. This fun, camp and colourful movie loosely based on the Edgar Allen Poe poem The Raven, is not the greatest example of the Corman-Price collection, but is great fun.
Night of the Demon (1957) Jaques Tourneur. This great movie is an adaptation of M R James’ story “Casting the Runes”. Starring Dana Andrews as a sceptical 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 the magician holds within it a host of performance frames and ideas for budding bizarrists out there!. Tourneur apparently never wanted the audience to ‘see’ the demon. I many ways I wish he had had his way. The film would be even creepier and scarier if the terror was left to the imagination – again bizarre magicians take note!
The Magician (1958) directed by Ingmar Bergman. The only reason that film is outside the top ten is because of the possibility of being considered as being ‘pretentious’ if it is placed where I think it belongs – in the top 5 at least! Max von Sydow plays a travelling magician and ‘magnetic-healer’ (harkening back to the days of Mesmer) caught up in a tale about prejudice, honesty, the class system and….. well the whole 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 is creepy surreal and brilliantly acted and directed.
So onto the Top Ten (10)
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 only one, but many of which featured movie versions of stage tricks that magicians would love to be able to actually do. He was one of the first 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 true innovator.
9. The Grim Game 1919 directed by Irvin Wilat. Not the greatest of movies to watch, but from a magician’s point of view a must. It featured Harry Houdini in the title role showcasing his feats of escapology. Houdini, not only a great magician but a great 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 some of the dramatic impact Houdini’s live performances will have had.
3. Houdini (1953) directed by George Marshall with Tony Curtis in as Houdini. This movie does have a lot to answer for in that it creates some of the longer lasting myths about the life of the genuinely ‘mythic’ Houdini. His death on stage as a result of performing the ‘water torture cell’ is not fact, but the movie certainly hints at it. The ‘brush with death’ in a frozen river; the first performance of the ‘straight jacket’ at a Magicians Society dinner almost surely never happened – but the romance and innocence of the moment saves it. The magical advisor on this movie was Dunninger.
Magicians (2007) actually deserves a Gold Star in this list. Directed by Andrew O Connor and with script written in collaboration with David Britland, Andy Nyman and Anthony Owen and others this is a magical tour de force. Opting for a comic look at the world of the conjuror, Magicians, sees Mitchell and Webb rattle through some great one-liners; pay homage to some key magicians and have a real knock at some of the oddness that is part and parcel of the magic scene. The great Pat Page makes an appearance, and most of the magic ‘stalls’ at the magic convention hosting the competition at the centre of the films plot were provided by well known magic dealers.
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