So here we go, the best 10 movies about ‘magic’ of ‘all time’. That’s a tall order and will of course become a list that will be challenged by many.
What I have tried to do is collate a list of movies that feature films which have magical themes or very obvious magical references in them. Of course the rash of Harry Potter films, the excellent Lord of the Rings trilogy and even Star Wars could be included. However, from a desire to expand the list of magician inspired or magically themed movies I have left these out as being ‘too obvious’.
For reasons of brevity I have also not included fully animated movies in this list, so the likes of Fantasia, Sword in the Stone and even The Illusionist (Sylvian Chomet’s 2010 film) are not considered.
I’ve also ignored television series, such as The Magician (Bill Bixby trained by Mark Wilson), Jonathan Creek, the quirky 1970’s TV series Ace of Wands as well as specific Colombo, Midsummer Murders, One Foot in the free movies Grave episodes that were based around magic and magicians.
So this brings us to a quick round-up of some of the best of the magician-in-the-movies films I am aware of. Starting with those just outside the Top Ten – not because of any lack of quality, just because they are a little peripheral to the main list.
Passport to Pimlico (1949) directed by Henry Cornelius and featuring great performances from Stanley Holloway and Margaret Rutherford. This great Ealing comedy contains a sequence on the tube train where magician of the day The Great Masoni, drops his case allowing his doves to escape adding to the surreal nature of the comic moment.
Dead of Night (1945) directed by Alberto Cavancanti is a superb Ealing portmanteau horror movie which contained a series of stories about a dream told by a guest arriving at remote farmhouse. The film is said to have influenced cosmologists Hoyle, Gold and Bondi to develop the ‘steady state theory’. They were inspired by the circular nature of the films narrative. However the movie contains a story about a ventriloquist and a less than charming dummy. Ventriloquism is related to the magical arts, hence its inclusion here. The story is the forerunner of one that is actually in the list, Magic, starring Anthony Hopkins.
Thirty Nine Steps (1939) directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The original and perhaps greatest version of this film the climax of which is takes place as in a theatre where a ‘memory man’ is performing. The Memory Act can be considered as a subset of the magical art of Mentalism. The great magician Harry Lorraine is world famous not only for his ‘magic’ act but also for his contribution to the training and development of the human memory.
The Raven (1963) directed by Roger Corman sees the great Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff as medieval magicians involved a magical duel. This fun, camp and colourful movie loosely based on the Edgar Allen Poe poem The Raven, is not the greatest example of the Corman-Price collection, but is great fun.
Night of the Demon (1957) Jaques Tourneur. This great movie is an adaptation of M R James’ story “Casting the Runes”. Starring Dana Andrews as a sceptical psychologist ‘cursed’ by the Faustian looking magician and ‘cult’ leader Julian Karswell (Nial MacGinnis). In one sequence Karswell dressed as Dr Bobo performs magic at a children’s party. The conversation which then ensues between the psychologist and the magician holds within it a host of performance frames and ideas for budding bizarrists out there!. Tourneur apparently never wanted the audience to ‘see’ the demon. I many ways I wish he had had his way. The film would be even creepier and scarier if the terror was left to the imagination – again bizarre magicians take note!