The film Now You See Me heads into theaters tomorrow. It boasts an impressive cast that includes the likes of Jesse Eisenburg, Mark Ruffalo, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman. The names alone are a big draw but the film also looks to be an entertaining heist film.
So far the press for this movie is largely surrounding that one interview where Morgan Freeman fell asleep.
And it would seem 2013 is another year for film magicians. Hopefully The Incredible Burt Wonderstone hasn’t ruined them for audiences this summer. That movie was largely panned (It’s at 37% on rottentomatoes.com). So far reviews for the Now you See Me have been mixed. Critics are saying it might be more flash than substance. Audiences will just have to wait and see for themselves.
In the meantime here’s a rundown of some classic movies about magicians.
The Escape Artist
A gem from the early 80’s. The film tells the story of Danny Masters, son of Harry Masters who was “The greatest escape artist except for Houdini.” Danny means to take after his father and joins his aunt and uncle in a magic act. This leads him to get drawn into crime and corruption and he learns the circumstances of his father’s death. It was produced by Francis Ford Coppola and it was the final film of Joan Hackett and Desi Arnaz. The film has become a cult favorite in the years since its release.
The Wizard of Oz
Maybe it would have been more obvious to put the recent screen bungle Oz: The Great and Powerful on this list but the original Wizard of Oz still featured that magic man behind the curtain. The film tells the classic tale of Dorothy from Kansas who gets whipped away by a Tornado to the magical Land of Oz where she must find her way back home with the help of some friends. The film received six Academy Award nominations and positive reviews but was not a big box office success. Years later it was ranked among the Top 10 Best Movies of all Time by the American Film Institute.
Chandu the Magician
This film was released in 1932 and it’s been adorable dated by the passage of time. It stars Bela Lugosi and Edmund Lowe. Lowe plays Frank Chandler, a man who has learned “Eastern magics” and with his new powers he comes to conquer the evil Roxor, played by Bella Lugosi. The movie is an artifact of his time and in some cases it’s a little bit funny. But it’s worth it to see Lugosi in his element. The film was popular enough to merit a sequel called The Return of Chandu, and that time Lugosi played Chandu.
The Great Buck Howard
John Malcovich plays the idiosyncratic better than many other actors and its part of his charm. In this film he plays Buck Howard, a ‘mentalist’ whose popularity has gone down in recent years. He gets an assistant named Troy played by Colin Hanks who has to deal with his eccentricities. Troy mostly sticks around because of Howard’s publicist Valerie played by Emily Blunt. Valerie is the only one who realizes Buck’s career is ending. Tom Hanks makes an appearance as Troy’s father (And is Colin Hank’s real dad!). The film is a hilarious look at the entertainment industry and at times it’s very endearing.
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
A traveling theater group gives audiences the unexpected and gets more than they bargained for. It might be a technicality but their theater act was certainly of the magical variety. This film is yet another hallucinogenic ride from director Terry Gilliam and it was also Heath Ledger’s last screen role. After his death three other actors were hired to be the shifting faces of his character Tony.
The Lady Vanishes
An Alfred Hitchcock classic, The Lady Vanishes is one of his final films before he moved to the States. It starred Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave. The tale is one of comedy and suspense. A young woman travels on a train with an elderly woman. When the woman vanishes from the train all the other passengers deny ever seeing her. Also at one point she and her companion are attacked by an actual magician named Signor Doppo. The film features all the classic Hitchcockian traits. A woman in distress, a macguffin, and mysterious dangers at every turn.
The Mad Magician
A Vincent Price classic made in 1954. The film is about a murderous magician who seeks revenge on those who have done him wrong. Price stars as Gallico the Great and brings his typical menace and charm to the role. The movie also stars Eva Gabor and Gallico’s former wife.
One of two movies about magicians that premiered within months of each other. Christopher Nolan made The Prestige right on the heels of his new Batman origins film, Batman Begins. The intricate and intriguing film starred Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall, Andy Serkis, David Bowie, and Michael Caine. The plot circled around two magicians who turned rivals and their desperate quest to best the other.
Orson Welles’ Magic Show
Orson Welles had an interest in magic tricks all of his life. He was, in fact, taught a few tricks by none other than Houdini himself. So it came to pass that Welles wanted to do a television special performing magic tricks. It was filmed between 1976 and 1985. After Welles death in 1985 the Munich Film Museum edited together a 27-minute cut of the special which has been screened at festivals.
Welles can also be seen performing magic tricks in a segment of the special Follow the Boys with Marlene Dietrich and in the 1967 Casino Royale as Le Chiffre.
This Pixar short delighted audiences when it screened before Wall-E in 2008. The animated short tells the tale of a stage magician trying to do tricks with his uncooperative rabbit. The film takes inspiration from classics like Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry.
The second magician film from 2006. This one was a tale of love and loss starring Edward Norton, Jessica Beil, and Paul Giamatti. The ending is up to interpretation and Edward Norton delivers a stunning and charismatic performance as the magician Eisenheim who will stop at nothing to gain the affections of the woman he loves.
An oddball movie from an oddball director. Woody Allen directs this film where Scarlett Johansson plays an awkward journalism student who gets drawn into a murder mystery. She is convinced that the man she is fallen in love with (Hugh Jackman) is the Tarot Card Killer. She enlists the help of Sid, a magician played by Woody Allen, to help investigate.
Now a part of the Criterion collection (and therefore available on Hulu Plus), this film tells the tale of a “traveling mesmerist” whose skills are tested by the royal medical advisor in Stockholm. The movie is a game of wits between two powerful men. It is directed by Ingmar Bergman and stars Max Von Sydow. It is in Swedish with subtitles but that should not be a deterrent. The film shines in its original language and Sydow is absolutely mesmerizing (Please pardon the pun).
Made in 1953 and starring Tony Curtis. The film is a somewhat inaccurate account of the life of Harry Houdini including his romance with Beth Houdini played by Janet Leigh. Tony Curtis was an amateur magician himself and he performed many of the magic tricks himself. As magician movies go it’s hard to top Houdini.
The Vanishing Lady
George Méliès got his start as a stage magician before he became a pioneer in film. He was an innovator whose discoveries changed the way film was made. He is responsible for the first ever science fiction film, La Voyage Dans La Lune. Recently he was played by Ben Kingsley in the film 2011 film Hugo. But before any of that he made the film The Vanishing Lady. A brief black and white silent film that featured Méliès himself as the magician. The film is under two minutes but it’s an example of early film and a chance to see Méliès in his element.
A French animated film from the director Sylvain Chomet (The creator of The Triplets of Belleville). The story is of a stage magician named Tatischeff. He lives in a world where stage magic is old hat and opportunities for him are dwindling. He then meets a young girl named Alice who still believes in magic. The film is by turns sweet, funny, and incredibly heartbreaking. It was nominated for Best Animated Feature Film at the 2011 Academy Awards.
So are there any great movies about magicians missing from this list? Feel free to discuss in the comments.