Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

BLACK MAGIC (1949)


BLACK MAGIC (1949). Director: Gregory Ratoff.
Alexander Dumas Sr. is working on a book about Cagliostro and trying to get a handle on him when he relates the story that forms this film to his son. Black Magic is a mix of fiction and history, and can best be described as a somewhat entertaining potboiler. Young Joseph Balsamo is whipped and forced to watch his gypsy parents being hanged upon the orders of the cruel Viscount DeMontagne (Stephen Bekassy) -- fiction. When he grows up, Balsamo has turned into the famed mysticist Count Cagliostro (fact), and eventually marries a young woman named Lorenza (fact) who is the spitting image of Marie Antoinette (fiction). The two of them get mixed up in a plot to turn the French public against Antoinette involving a piece of jewelry (part fiction, part fact). Then, of course, Cagliostro must get his revenge against DeMontagne, although this aspect of the story doesn't get nearly enough dramatic attention. Orson Welles gives another wonderful performance as Cagliostro, although the movie is certainly no Citizen Kane. Nancy Guild makes the most of her dual role as the sweet and innocent Lorenza and a rather bitchy Marie Antoinette, and Margot Grahame scores as Mme. DuBarry. Akim Tamiroff is fine, as always, as a friend of Cagliostro's. After awhile the muddled proceedings begin to grow wearisome, however, although there's an eye-opening sword fight high above on the roofs of Paris at the end that is quite striking and cinematic. Another memorable sequence has a crowd of supposed cripples and sick people gathering in front of the King, who orders Cagliostro to cure them en masse -- with amusing results.
Verdict: Has its moments, but you can also see why it's been forgotten. **1/2.

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