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Saturday, July 25, 2015

BLACK MAGIC (1949)

Looking strikingly handsome & fit, Orson Welles has a whale of a time barnstorming his way thru this period twaddle. Made in Italy, with catch-as-catch-can ‘synched’ post-production dialogue (an unhappy portent of Welles projects to come), it’s one of those grand, loopy Alexandre Dumas revenge tales indie producer Edward Small specialized in. This one, all about Count Cagliostro, once a gypsy boy with a natural talent for hypnotic suggestion, now all grown up and out to get the aristo who had his parents unjustly hung. Energetically directed by Hollywood hack Gregory Ratoff, with what looks like occasional assists from Welles, the film is both lux and lumpy, dropping scenes when interest (or budget) wanes before pouring on atmosphere & nifty plot turns. It’s pretty irresistible stuff if you don’t mind a little roughness in execution and a few distinctly undercast roles. A description that most certainly does not apply to Akim Tamiroff, that slightly mad Russian character actor (and character) in the first of many appearances in Orson Welles projects.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: The recent DVD edition from Hen’s Tooth, officially sourced from Edward Small Productions, shows some damage (especially on the lower right side of the screen), but gives a reasonably good picture most of the time.

DOUBLE-BILL: Welles was equally effective playing similar roles as second lead to Tyrone Power in PRINCE OF FOXES/’49 and THE BLACK ROSE/’50.

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