Well folks we finish off Before They Were Stars week with a Richard Attenborough flick from 1978. The center or crux of this film is around a ventriloquist by the name of Corky Withers. You may know him better as Sir Anthony Hopkins. Gather around the idjit box and stuff your face with munchies. This is Magic.
Spoilers tried…tried…and failed!
Actor/producer/director Richard Attenbourough (Oh! What a Lovely War, Young Winston, A Bridge Too Far, Gandhi, A Chorus Line and Chaplin) intentionally purchased writer William Goldman’s screenplay based on his same titled novel (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men, Heat, The Princess Bride, Misery and Chaplin) in order to use the revenue for making Gandhi. Until he really sat down and read the screenplay.
While the main focus is a fumbling magician’s assistant named Corky (Sir Anthony Hopkins of Othello, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Desperate Hours, Silence of the Lambs, Dracula, Chaplin and Legends of the Fall) and summoning the courage to go solo he bombs quicker than a sober guy on open mike night. (Seen it and it is not pretty) The crowd mocks his act and Corky becomes a little unhinged and starts insulting the audience. His mentor tells him he needs a real gimmick so a year passes since that conversation apparently and Corky is now seen with a dummy named Fats and what do you know, he is surprisingly good and starts making a name for himself in the entertainment circuit. Talent agent Ben Greene (Burgess Meredith of Batman, Mr. Novak, The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, Rocky, Clash of the Titans, Gloria and Grumpy Old Men) seeks Corky out and tells him he is ready for the big time! I’m thinking Ed Sullivan or Johnny Carson myself. Corky is ecstatic until he learns he will need to undergo a medical examination and Corky gives some half-assed excuse about fear of success and runs off the Catskills. You see kids; Fats gave Corky more than confidence on stage.
Corky stays at a hotel run by his old high school crush Peggy Ann Snow (Ann-Margret of Bye Bye Birdie, Viva Las Vegas, The Train Robbers, Tommy, The Villain, Twice in a Lifetime and Grumpy Old Men) who seems to be stuck in a loveless marriage and takes to Corky’s attention as it gives her life again. Seriously the way Peggy and Duke act, you know they are dreaming of ending one another across the breakfast table. Peggy’s husband Duke (Ed Lauter of Dirty Little Billy, King Kong, The White Buffalo, B.J. and the Bear, Loose Shoes and Mulholland Falls) starts to think Corky may be after his gal and is getting a bit steamed under the collar. This is not your typical love triangle as so much a quadrangle in that oddly enough Fats is not thrilled with Corky going out on his own either.
From what I gather there is no supernatural element in this that Fats is somehow possessed but in actuality it is all in Corky’s mind. His unbearable self-loathing causes him to doubt his worth by acting out with Fats. Ben attempts to get ahold of Corky again and pleads with him to get some help. The best scene in this film is still has to be Corky putting Fats down for 5 minutes. Sweat just trickles down his face and he cannot help but rush over to Fats yet again.
Now while the horror is a bit predictable when it occurs, it is fascinating watching Corky just losing his mind and soul a little at a time and Peggy really is the emotional lynchpin to this film. Perhaps if we never saw Corky lose it on stage it would be more of a psychological thriller. Not a great movie but overall a sound one. A competent triumph from cast and crew by my account and I deem it noteworthy.