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Updated: Apr 12, 2023

Long before he creeped us out as one of the greatest screen villains of all time, Hannibal Lecter, Anthony Hopkins brought us a different kind of chills in 1978's MAGIC.

Hopkins stars as second rate magician Corky Withers. Flop sweating through ignored stage appearances, Corky hits the big time when he incorporates Fats into his act.

Fats is a ventriloquist dummy with a nasty sense of humor and all the confidence and bravado that Corky lacks.

The act's a hit and Corky is on the verge of major stardom. When his long time manager Ben Greene, perfectly played by Burgess Meredith (Rocky) gets ready to sign a huge contract with him, Corky flees into the Catskills.

Arriving at a lodge run by his old high school crush Peggy Ann Snow (Ann Margaret), Corky tries to find some peace and quiet to deal with his sudden chance at the big time.

It soon becomes apparent that Corky's relationship with Fats is far from normal. Hopkins is brilliant, creating a sympathetic character whose losing battle against his own demons goes from worrisome to violent and bloody.

Fats is the creepiest doll this side of Annabelle and his high pitch calls of "We're going to be a staaaaaarrrrr!" are like scary ear worms you'll be suffering from long after the end credits.

When Greene (Meredith) arrives at the lodge and issues the five minute challenge to Corky, its just one example of the fantastic writing by one of America's best screenwriters of the era, William Goldman.

Goldman wrote "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", "Marathon Man", "Heat" and adapted "All the President's Men" for the screen. He's one of the best and it's evident here.

When Peggy Ann's boorish husband Duke returns and is suspicious of her relationship and history with Corky, a lesser book/screenplay would have painted Duke as an easy-to-hate lout who it's easy to cheer against.

Lauter and Hopkins scene alone on the boat on the lake creates Duke as something different, surprising both Corky and the viewer.

Director Richard Attenborough (Gandhi, Chaplin) makes some clever choices as well, giving you just enough of Fats from Corky's mental viewpoint to elevate the scares and make you question just how much Fats needs Corky to make things happen.

Smart, deliberate and suspenseful, its elevated by one of Jerry Goldsmith's best music scores of the 70's from the opening frames to the last. Who knew a harmonica could create such dread?

A master class in acting and screenwriting, MAGIC conjures an A+ and remains an all-time favorite film, just outside my top 100.

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