The Magician (1926 film)

Last updated

The Magician
The Magician 1926 film poster.jpg
Original movie poster
Directed by Rex Ingram
Written byRex Ingram
Based on The Magician
1908 novel
by W. Somerset Maugham
Produced byRex Ingram
Starring Alice Terry
Paul Wegener
Iván Petrovich
Cinematography John F. Seitz
Edited by Grant Whytock
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • October 24, 1926 (1926-10-24)
Running time
88 minutes [1]
Country United States
Languages Silent film
English intertitles

The Magician is a 1926 American silent fantasy horror film directed by Rex Ingram about a magician's efforts to acquire the blood of a maiden for his experiments to create life. It was adapted by Ingram from the 1908 novel The Magician by W. Somerset Maugham. [2] It stars Alice Terry (the director's wife), Paul Wegener and Iván Petrovich. Critic Carlos Clarens wrote that it was "perhaps the most elusive of lost films." [3] However, since the time Clarens wrote this, various prints of the film have surfaced. Some have screened at independent movie festivals from 1993 onwards, and the film has also been shown on Turner Classic Movies. It remained commercially unavailable until being released on DVD in the Warner Brothers Archive Collection in 2011 (with a running time of 88 minutes). [1]



In the Latin Quarter of Paris, sculptor Margaret Dauncey is injured when the top of the huge statue of a faun she is working on breaks off and falls on her. After a successful surgery by Dr. Arthur Burdon saves her from paralysis, she and Burdon fall in love.

The surgery is watched by various doctors and others including Oliver Haddo, a hypnotist, magician and student of medicine (a character in Maugham's original novel based on real-life occultist Aleister Crowley). Later, in the Library of the Arsenal, Haddo finds what he has been searching for - a magic formula for the creation of human life. One of the ingredients is the "heart blood of a Maiden". He rips out the page and presents the old book to Dr. Porhoët, Margaret's uncle and guardian, who has also been looking for it.

When Margaret, Burdon and Dr. Porhoët go to the Fair at Leon de Belfort, they encounter Haddo, whom Margaret dislikes immediately. When Dr. Porhoët claims that the snake charmers use harmless snakes, Haddo refutes him and demonstrates his powers by letting a deadly horned viper bite him. He then magically makes the wound disappear. Porhoët remains unconvinced until the discarded viper strikes a young woman performer. Burdon has to rush her to a hospital.

Later, Haddo visits Margaret uninvited. He hypnotizes her and tells her to concentrate on her statue. It seems to come to life to preside over a large orgy.

Two days before her wedding to Burdon, Margaret receives a note from Haddo, asking her to see him the next morning. She tries to resist the summons, but fails. On the day of the wedding, Burdon learns that Margaret has married Haddo instead but Porhoët is convinced it was against his niece's will and Burdon tries to track them down.

Burdon eventually encounters the couple at a casino in Monte Carlo. He and Porhoët free Margaret while Haddo is away. Porhoët places her in a sanatorium to recover.

However, Haddo finds her and takes her to his laboratory in a tower. Just as Haddo is about to stab a bound Margaret, Burdon bursts in. After a violent struggle, Haddo falls into a huge fire and is killed. Margaret emerges from her trance and is reunited with her true love. Porhoët finds the page with the formula and burns it and sets the laboratory on fire.


A young Michael Powell made a brief appearance in a comedic role and also acted as assistant director.


According to Carlos Clarens, "made for Metro in France, away from all interference, The Magician was saluted upon release by a barrage of negative criticism, mostly on grounds of tastelessness, that sealed the picture's doom. The still photographs, all that are available to the present day, show Ingram at the height of his pictorial talent." [4]

Although the film is fundamentally a mad-scientist melodrama, it has been pointed out that "along with the Tod Browning-Lon Chaney collaborations, The Magician was one of the few serious American horror movies in a time of spoofs." [5]

Paul Wegener's Magician co-workers found him difficult to work with. He had his own make-up artist "whom he screamed at on the slightest provocation.” Michael Powell was not impressed with Wegener's acting, saying his "one expression to indicate magical powers was to open his huge eyes even wider, until he looked about as frightened as a bullfrog." [6]

Some film historians suspect Rex Ingram began losing interest in The Magician while filming the project and left sequences he did not find interesting to others to direct. This may account for why his credit on The Magician reads "Supervised by Rex Ingram." Henry Lachman claimed to have directed the Sabbat sequence and Powell supports this account in his memoirs. [7] According to critic Carlos Clarens, the orgy scene recalls artistic depictions of the Greek god Pan, whom he listed as being portrayed by Stowitts, the American dancer at the Folies Bergere." [4]

For theatre historians, The Magician provides a rare film record of the actor Firmin Gémier (1869-1933) in the supporting role of Dr. Porhoët. As a young man, Gémier had been a company member of two of the most important and influential avant-garde theatre companies in Paris in the 1880s and 1890s, working for André Antoine's Théâtre Libre and Aurélien Lugné-Poe's Théâtre de l'Œuvre. For the latter, he created the role of Père Ubu in the original production of Alfred Jarry's notorious Ubu roi (1896). When Antoine became artistic director of the national Théâtre de l'Odéon in 1906, he tapped Gémier to take over the artistic direction of his former operation, the Théâtre Antoine. Gémier appeared in only eight films, and his brief appearance in The Magician gives modern audiences a glimpse at what this prominent modernist theater star was like.


Lawrence Reid of Motion Picture News praised the film as "weird, fantastic, adequately suspensive, and shivery . . . no matter how it is accepted (there isn't so much of the box-office ring about it, after all) no one is going to dismiss it as something that doesn't belong . . . The film is splendidly atmospheric, contains some unique settings and is very well acted by a cast of international flavor." Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times was impressed with the cast, writing that Alice Terry was "beautiful and phlegmatic," Ivan Petrovich "emphatically sympathetic and capable," and Paul Wegener "with good make-up" giving a "restrained performance." [8]

Conversely, Variety's Fred was impressed with Wegener's performance yet more critical of the film, calling it "a very slow moving, draggy picture that has but a single thrill." Similarly, the Cleveland Plain Dealer described the film as "A wild, improbable tale, not without its suspense and interest," adding that "Ingram can never be stupid, but he is of late sometime careless." [9]


Silent film composer Robert Israel created a score for the Turner Classic Movies reissue of the movie. [10] The Ragged Ragtime Band created and performed a score for The Magician at the Brighton Fringe Festival in 2012. [11] The Nenagh Silent Film Festival commissioned Eoin Mac Ionmhain to compose and premiere a live score for The Magician in 2013. [12]

Related Research Articles

<i>The Magician</i> (Maugham novel) 1908 novel by William Somerset Maugham

The Magician is a novel by British author W. Somerset Maugham, originally published in 1908. In this tale, the magician Oliver Haddo, a caricature of Aleister Crowley, attempts to create life. Crowley wrote a critique of this book under the pen name Oliver Haddo, in which he accused Maugham of plagiarism.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Paul Wegener</span> German actor, writer, and film director

Paul Wegener was a German actor, writer, and film director known for his pioneering role in German expressionist cinema.

<i>The Last Warning</i> 1928 film

The Last Warning is a 1928 American mystery film directed by Paul Leni, and starring Laura La Plante, Montagu Love, and Margaret Livingston. Its plot follows a New York producer's attempt to re-stage a play five years after one of the original cast members was murdered in the theater. The film is based on the 1922 Broadway melodrama of the same name by Thomas F. Fallon, which in turn was based on the story House of Fear by Wadsworth Camp, the father of the writer Madeleine L'Engle.

Jack Natteford was an American screenwriter. He wrote for more than 140 films between 1921 and 1967. He was born in Wahoo, Nebraska and died in Los Angeles County, California. He was married to fellow screenwriter Luci Ward.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Allen Holubar</span> American actor

Allen Holubar was an American actor, film director, and screenwriter of the silent film era. He appeared in 38 films between 1913 and 1917. He also directed 33 films between 1916 and 1923.

<i>Seven Footprints to Satan</i> 1929 American mystery film

Seven Footprints to Satan is a 1929 American mystery film directed by Danish filmmaker Benjamin Christensen. Based on the 1928 story of the same name by Abraham Merritt, it stars Thelma Todd, Creighton Hale, William V. Mong and Sheldon Lewis. It was first released as a silent film and later as a part-talkie.

<i>Wee Lady Betty</i> 1917 silent film by Charles Miller

Wee Lady Betty is a 1917 American silent drama film produced and distributed by the Triangle Film Corporation. It was directed by Charles Miller and stars Bessie Love, Frank Borzage, and Charles K. French. It is considered lost.

<i>Loves Whirlpool</i> 1924 film

Love's Whirlpool is a 1924 American silent crime drama film directed by Bruce Mitchell and starring James Kirkwood and Lila Lee.

Sam Baker (actor) American actor

Sam Baker, born Samuel D. Baker, was an American actor who usually performed with Rudolph Valentino, Ramon Novarro, Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin.

Harry L. Franklin was a director of silent films in the United States.

The Curious Conduct of Judge Legarde is a 1915 American drama silent black and white film directed by Will S. Davis. It is based on the play of the same name by Victor Mapes and Louis Forest. The film is lost.

<i>Luring Shadows</i> (1920 film) 1920 film

Luring Shadows is a silent 1920 American religious mystery film directed by Joseph Levering and written by Oscar E. Goebel and Condé B. Pallen. It was produced by the now defunct Catholic Art Association and Inter-Ocean Film Corporation, and stars Aida Horton. The film was the Catholic Art Association's fifth and second-to-last cinematic production.

The Haunted Manor is a silent drama film released in 1916. It was produced by Gaumont Film Company and released through the Mutual Film Company. Filming took place in Jacksonville and St. Augustine, Florida. It was directed by Edwin Middleton. Part of the movie plot is set in India.

<i>Princess of the Dark</i> 1917 film

Princess of the Dark is a 1917 American silent drama film directed by Charles Miller and starring Enid Bennett, John Gilbert and Gayne Whitman.

Corliss Giles American actor

Corliss Giles was an actor during the silent film era in the United States. He had starring roles including in the 1917 film Shirley Kaye, Voices in 1920, and The Mountain Woman in 1921. He also appeared in several theatrical productions.

Chester M. De Vonde was an actor, writer, and director of theatrical productions and films.

The Greater Will is a 1915 American silent drama film directed by Harley Knoles and starring Cyril Maude, Lois Meredith and Montagu Love.

Whispering Shadows is a 1921 American silent drama film directed by Emile Chautard and starring Lucy Cotton, Charles A. Stevenson and Philip Merivale. It is based on the 1917 play The Invisible Foe by Walter C. Hackett, the rights for which were acquired for six thousand dollars. It was distributed independently on a states rights basis, partly by the former major studio World Film which released it in several markets.

<i>When a Man Loves</i> (1919 film) 1919 silent film

When a Man Loves is a 1919 American silent drama film directed by Chester Bennett and starring Earle Williams, Tom Guise and Margaret Loomis. A young Englishman visits Tokyo and falls in love with a Japanese woman who he marries, but obstacles are presented by a jealous Englishwoman who hoped to marry him and the disapproval of his aristocrat father when he returns to Britain.

<i>The Dream Cheater</i> 1920 American silent horror film

The Dream Cheater is a 1920 American silent horror film directed by Ernest C. Warde and starring J. Warren Kerrigan, Wedgwood Nowell and Fritzi Brunette. It is based on the 1831 novel La Peau de chagrin by Honoré de Balzac.


  1. 1 2 "Silent Era : Home Video Reviews".
  2. Carl Bennett (ed.). "The Magician". Progressive Silent Film List. Retrieved October 3, 2015 via Silent Era.
  3. Carlos Clarens. Horror Movies: An Illustrated Survey. London: Secker and Warburg, 1968 (revised enlarged from the 1967 Putnam's edition published under the title An Illustrated History of the Horror Film ), p. 72.
  4. 1 2 Carlos Clarens. Horror Movies: An Illustrated Survey. London: Secker and Warburg, 1968 (revised enlarged from the 1967 Putnam's edition published under the title An Illustrated History of the Horror Film), p. 73.
  5. Phil Hardy (ed). The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror. London: Aurum Press, 1985; revised ed 1993, p. 36
  6. Soister, John T.; Nicolella, Henry; Joyce, Steve (January 10, 2014). American Silent Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Feature Films, 1913-1929. McFarland. ISBN   9780786487905.
  7. Soister, John T.; Nicolella, Henry; Joyce, Steve (January 10, 2014). American Silent Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Feature Films, 1913-1929. McFarland. ISBN   9780786487905.
  8. Soister, John T.; Nicolella, Henry; Joyce, Steve (January 10, 2014). American Silent Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Feature Films, 1913-1929. McFarland. ISBN   9780786487905.
  9. Soister, John T.; Nicolella, Henry; Joyce, Steve (January 10, 2014). American Silent Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Feature Films, 1913-1929. McFarland. ISBN   9780786487905.
  10. Bret Wood. "The Magician (1926)". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved October 3, 2015.
  11. Amy Holtz (May 23, 2012). "The Last Tuesday Society: The Magician". Broadway Baby. Archived from the original on October 28, 2014. Retrieved October 3, 2015.
  12. "Fair City Stars Come Out For Nenagh Festival". Tipperary Star. February 20, 2013. Archived from the original on October 28, 2014. Retrieved October 3, 2015.