Margaret Dauncey (Alice Terry) is a French sculptor currently working on a huge sculpture of a faun. When the massive clay figure falls and injures her she is brought to hospital. Learning that she is paralyzed her uncle Dr. Porhoet (Firmin Gemier) calls the eminent surgeon Dr. Arthur Burdon (Ivan Petrovich). Dr. Burdon performs surgery that cures her of her paralysis.
One of the students watching the surgery is Oliver Haddo (Paul Wegener). Haddo is a magician and hypnotist. Haddo has been researching the occult and has been looking for a magic formula to create life. He finally finds it in the Library of the Arsenal in France. The formula requires the heart blood of a virgin.
Arthur and Margaret fall in love. At the "Fair at Leon de Belfort" Haddo meets Margaret. Margaret thinks the beady eyed magician is creepy. Haddo, on the other hand, is entranced by Margaret. She seems to fit perfectly the subject he needs for his experiment. She is a maiden with blond hair and blue eyes. The next day he visits her. At first she is upset that he showed up uninvited. Haddo quickly hypnotizes her. He tells her to concentrate on her statue of the faun. Margaret has a vision that the statue (Hubert I. Stowitts) comes to life and she finds herself in the middle of an orgy.
Margaret and Arthur are to be married in two days when she gets a note from Haddo. With Haddo firmly planted in her mind she is unable to resist his summons. He again hypnotizes her. The day of her wedding she leaves a note for Arthur telling him she has married Haddo. Her uncle firmly believes it was against her will. Arthur and Porhoet begin a search for Margaret. Arthur eventually tracks her down in Monte Carlo. Her uncle puts her in a sanitarium for a few days. Haddo finds her and whisks her away to his castle laboratory. Now Arthur must find her again before it’s too late.
“The Magician” was released in 1926 and was directed by Rex Ingram. It is a silent horror film based on a novel by W. Somerset Maugham. The film is one of the pioneers of the horror genre. When it was released the film garnered a lot of criticism and was called tasteless. Most likely due to the male nudity in the hypnotism dream scene. Not something usually seen in film at that time.
Rex Ingram was a well known director, actor, writer and producer during the silent era. At the time the movie was made he was married to the film’s star Alice Terry.
Word in the biz is that author W. Somerset Maugham based the Haddo character on occultist Aleister Crowley, with whom he did not get along. Something that Crowley also believed. To the point of trying to blackmail MGM for a film deal by blocking the movie’s release claiming the film used his likeness without his permission. MGM didn’t fold since they rightly believed that Crowley claiming, a mad occultist who wants to kill a virgin to perform a magical spell, was based on his own life was not an argument that one would normally put forward.
If Paul Wegener looks familiar to you, he was a German actor, writer and director who’s use of German expressionism helped him make films like “The Golem: How He Came into the World” 1920. According to his co-workers he wasn’t exactly easy to work with. Co-worker Michael Powell reportedly said “one expression to indicate magical powers was to open his huge eyes even wider, until he looked about as frightened as a bullfrog."
There are people on both sides of the isle on this film. There are parts that were a little slow but I felt that an orgy involving a satyr and a Frankenstein style experiment in a sorcerer’s castle more than made up for it. Plus the fact that we actually have the film to watch instead of having it lost to time puts it firmly on the “I like it” list.