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Film / The Magician

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A 1926 silent horror film directed by Rex Ingram, based on the 1908 novel of the same name by W. Somerset Maugham.

Margaret Dauncey (Alice Terry) is a young woman in Paris who has already achieved success as a sculptor. One day her latest sculpture, a massive statue of a faun she is carving in clay, cleaves apart under its own weight and falls on her. She suffers a severe spinal injury. Luckily, visiting American surgeon Dr. Arthur Burdon is there in Paris and is able to operate on Margaret and save her from paralysis. He falls in love with his beautiful patient and, after she is discharged from the hospital, they get engaged.

Unluckily, one Oliver Haddo is among the med students observing the operation on Margaret. Haddo, described as a "Hypnotist, magician, and student of medicine", is studying medicine, not to really become a doctor, but to assist in his dark experiments in alchemy. Haddo in fact wants to "create life" through an alchemical ritual that requires, among other things, "the heart's blood of a maiden". He finds his victim in Margaret. Soon he has used his hypnotic powers to get Margaret to marry him and go away with him. Burdon must find Margaret and rescue her before Haddo kills her as part of his ritual.

The final act, in which Haddo goes to his lair at the top of a stone tower, and puts Margaret on a table while he and his little person assistant conduct the ritual to create new life, is very reminiscent in look and story to Frankenstein, made five years later.

Not to be confused with the 1958 Ingmar Bergman film Ansiktet, known as The Magician in the U.S. A young Michael Powell worked as an assistant director.


  • Amusement Park: Arthur takes Margaret to an amusement park, where they ride the rides and have fun before having a scary encounter with Haddo in a snake-charmer's tent.
  • Antagonist Title: The student of the dark arts of the title is its villain.
  • Balloonacy: A single balloon is enough to lift a man's bowler hat to the ceiling of a circus tent.
  • Blood Magic: One of the ingredients for the creation of human life is "the heart's blood of a maiden".
  • Collapsing Lair: Haddo's stone tower where he was going to kill Margaret for use in a ritual collapses after her uncle sets fire to it.
  • Creator Cameo: Assistant director Michael Powell appears as the silly man with a bowler hat in the audience at the snake charming act.
  • Credits Gag: The opening credits call the film a "Metro-Goldwyn Picture", because director Rex Ingram hated Louis B. Mayer so much that he refused to put Mayer's name on his movie.
  • Eiffel Tower Effect: Of course we get a shot of the Eiffel Tower to establish that the first part of the movie takes place in Paris. We also get a shot of Cleopatra's Needle.
  • Everybody Loves Blondes: Haddo's ritual states that the Virgin Sacrifice must be done not just with any maiden, but "a maiden with fair skin, golden hair", and blue eyes. The blonde-haired blue-eyed virgin Margaret is the perfect candidate.
  • Hypnotic Eyes: Five years before Bela Lugosi, Haddo uses his hypnotic stare to bind Margaret to his will. She becomes effectively his slave, unable to resist going to his home, then later marrying him and going away with him, even though she doesn't want to and knows he's going to kill her.
  • Large Ham: Paul Wegener as Haddo really hams it up, with an intense bug-eyed stare practically all the time, especially when he is hypnotizing Margaret.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: It's said of Haddo that "He looks as if he had stepped out of a melodrama." Of course, he's actually in a melodrama.
  • Little People Are Surreal: A weird-looking little person is Haddo's very Igor-like assistant during the final act when he's performing the ritual to create new life.
  • Mad Scientist: Haddo, who seeks to kill a young woman in order to invent some sort of Frankenstein creature.
  • Snake Charmer: Haddo demonstrates his mystical powers to Arthur and Margaret at the snake charmer's booth at the amusement park. He lets the snake bite him, and then uses magic to make the bite disappear.
  • That Russian Squat Dance: It's even more impressive when a little girl does the Russian squat dance, as shown in the Russian booth at the amusement park.
  • Virgin Sacrifice: "The heart's blood of a maiden" is needed for the creation of human life. A line of dialogue has Margaret saying that she has been Haddo's wife "in name only", confirming that the marriage has been unconsummated and he has kept her a virgin, for the sacrifice.