BLACK MAGIC Orson Welles


BLACK MAGIC. Edward Small Productions/United Artists, 1949. Orson Welles, Nancy Guild, Akim Tamiroff, Frank Latimore, Valentina Cortese, Margot Grahame, Berry Kroeger, Raymond Burr. Based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas père. Director: Gregory Ratoff.

   Call me nostalgic to the point of narcissism, but I enjoy revisiting from time to time the things that thrilled me as a kid, and at the tender age of Fourteen or so, I was convinced that Black Magic was the greatest film ever made.

BLACK MAGIC Orson Welles

   Well, the intervening forty-four years have dimmed its splendor somewhat, but This is still an enjoyably campy comic book of a movie, purportedly based on Alexandre Dumas’ tale of Cagliostro (Orson Welles) and the affair of the Queen’s necklace.

   The script is corny, Welles is hammy, and the direction (There are the usual rumors that Welles himself took a hand) over-emphatic, but it’s still fun, with swordfights, gypsy curses, hypnotic spells and lord-knows-what-all jamming its brief running time.

   Producer Edward Small made an industry (Not a cottage industry; a real celluloid-and-press-book industry) out of adapting Dumas, whose works were in public domain, on the screen (with varying degrees of faithfulness) a passion that started with The Count of Monte Cristo in 1934, right up to Black Magic in ’49, with a stop along the way for James Whale’s The Man in the Iron Mask.

BLACK MAGIC Orson Welles

   Small moved on to other projects, such as Witness for the Prosecution and It! The Terror from Beyond Space, until he at last turned to popcorn fantasy and finished his career with The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schultz, which at last gave us Elke Sommer naked.

   For Black Magic, he seems to have stuffed ten pounds of Publicity into a Five-Pound-Bag, with outlandish posters, breathless trailers and even a tie-in with Superman comics, a feat of dubious artistry maybe, but executed with a modicum of wit.