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Showy Orson Welles performance in a lavish but wildly uneven historical melodrama. 3 Stars

Gregory Ratoff’s Black Magic offers Orson Welles a showy starring role as the 18th century mesmerist Cagliostro in a lavish production with a strong supporting cast which can now be seen in ClassicFlix’s recently restored Blu-ray release.

Black Magic (1949)
Released: 19 Aug 1949
Rated: Passed
Runtime: 105 min
Director: Gregory Ratoff, Orson Welles
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Romance
Cast: Orson Welles, Nancy Guild, Akim Tamiroff
Writer(s): Alexandre Dumas, Charles Bennett, Richard Schayer
Plot: Hypnotist uses his powers for revenge against King Louis XV's court.
IMDB rating: 6.4
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Other
Distributed By: ClassicFlix
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 45 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: clear keep case
Disc Type: BD25 (single layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 01/25/2022
MSRP: $29.99

The Production: 3/5

One of the lesser known films starring Orson Welles, Gregory Ratoff’s Black Magic casts the infamous actor-writer-director as one of history’s true charlatans, the 18th century fakir Cagliostro in a mostly fictional swashbuckler mixing the character into court intrigue during the later reign of Louis XV with Marie Antoinette, Madame DuBarry, and Dr. Franz Mesmer among the many celebrated notables making important appearances. It’s all twaddle, of course, but a good chunk of it is very enjoyable, and even when the narrative runs off the rails, Orson Welles is always worth watching.

When his gypsy mother and father are murdered before his eyes, the young Joseph Balsamo (Annielo Mele as a child, Orson Welles as an adult) swears vengeance on the Viscount de Montagne (Stephen Bekassy) who had ordered their deaths. Inheriting his mother’s simple hypnotic gifts, Joseph is instructed by Dr. Franz Mesmer (Charles Goldner) how to deepen his control of people with his eyes, and with this power, Joseph reinvents himself with the help of gypsy friends Gitano (Akim Tamiroff) and Zoraida (Valentina Cortese) as Count Cagliostro furthering his reputation throughout the land as a supernatural healer and practitioner of the dark arts. He is sent for by Montagne to heal the beautiful Lorenza (Nancy Guild) who is in a state of deep shock due to being kidnapped. Montagne and the Countess du Barry (Margot Grahame) have hatched a plot to bring ruin to the Princess Marie Antoinette (also Nancy Guild) by having Lorenza impersonate her in a scandal involving a ruinously expensive diamond necklace, but by this time Cagliostro has fallen in love in Lorenza and decides to use her himself for his own purposes while pretending to be helping his sworn enemy.

Charles Bennett’s screenplay (adapted from Alexandre Dumas’ account of Cagliostro from Memoirs of a Physician) holds our attention until about the three-quarter mark when the narrative spins out of control, the time frame becomes confused, and it all melodramatically devolves into chaos. The doppelganger storyline involving the attempted switching of one person for his lookalike has been done too often to count and the love triangle set up between Lorenza, Cagliostro, and Zoraida is feebly prosaic, but the story of Cagliostro’s labyrinthine road to vengeance still hooks the viewer and keeps us interested, and the expensive production design and florid performances likewise hold our attention. Though he’s not credited, it’s hard not to notice lots of Welles-like touches in the direction with some most eye-catching lighting during the torture scenes early on and in the elaborate court ball sequence which is meant to show up Cagliostro as a fake but where he turns the tables on his enemies and emerges victorious. The early montage showing Cagliostro’s rise to prominence is artfully composed and presented, and if the climactic trial sequence and later dueling scene go far over the top for comfort, they’re still blocked beautifully (Mesmer and Cagliostro circling one another for dominance and Frank Latimore’s Gilbert de Rezel shielding his eyes from Cagliostro’s gaze during their fight are both memorable if inarguably hyperbolic moments).

Orson Welles commits himself fully to the role of the increasingly driven Cagliostro, hamming it up when appropriate and earnestly downplaying his voice and gestures when it suits him. Nancy Guild does admirably in her dual roles, clearly delineating between the simple, solemn Lorenza and the haughtily grand Marie Antoinette. Stephen Bekassy makes a great villainous Viscount de Montagne without going over-the-top, and Frank Latimore is likewise admirably contained as the heroic Gilbert de Rezel. Valentina Cortese’s flashing eyes do her work for her as the spitting, jealous Zoraida while Margot Grahame is a grand Madame DuBarry. Robert Atkins and Lee Kresel are fine as Kings Louis XV and XVI respectively, and Charles Goldner has some good moments, too, as Franz Mesmer. Akim Tamiroff isn’t given nearly enough to do as Joseph’s loyal gypsy friend Gitano. Yes, that is Raymond Burr and Berry Kroeger as the junior and senior Alexandre Dumas who set the story into motion at the beginning.

Video: 3.5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film’s 1.37:1 theatrical aspect ratio is presented in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. While the image is very sharp throughout, image quality fluctuates as edges of the frame vary in emulsion consistency. That also often affects dark levels, too, which can sometimes lighten to a medium gray. There is an occasional scratch or two, but nothing especially distracting. Those tonal variations across the frame do occasionally intrude on one’s enjoyment. The movie has been divided into 16 chapters.

Audio: 3.5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix is typical of its era. Dialogue has been well-recorded and has been mixed with Paul Sawtell’s background score and the sound effects quite professionally. Unfortunately, low level hiss is an almost constant companion as one watches and listens, and there’s a tiny bit of crackle, too.

Special Features: 0.5/5

ClassicFlix Trailers: A Night in Casablanca, The Little Rascals Volume 3, Stand-In, T-Men, Tomorrow is Forever.

Overall: 3/5

Gregory Ratoff’s Black Magic offers Orson Welles a showy starring role as the 18th century mesmerist Cagliostro in a lavish production with a strong supporting cast which can now be seen in ClassicFlix’s recently restored Blu-ray release.

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Published by

Matt Hough

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Capt D McMars

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My copy was shipped on the release date of Jan 25th, it has been one of my favorite titles for a long time. And I have seen many a sloppy discs, versions so dark that they were almost a radio show, LOL!! The best edition I've yet found was the DVD by Hen's Tooth back in the early 2000s. From what I've seen so far, from the trailer, this edition is a much more elivated offering. But I will hold off judgment, once I've been able to view this Bluray release for my self.
Given the condition of the exsisting materials, I think a lttle leeway should be given here. Considering the uphill row that ClassicFliks had to hoe, I believe a little leniency is not out of order. Some films, like The Court Jester fro example, had amazing film and audio sources to work with. And the end results were a mind blower!!
That said, many other films are not so blessed and knowing the whole story and the guts it takes to take on a title, knowing what you do and don't have to work with should be in the mix as well!!
I'm looking forward to viewing it, hopefuly this week!! ;)
 

Capt D McMars

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Be sure to let us know what you think about the movie and the presentation.
Being very familure with this movie, and having owned several dvd incarnations of disapointing editions, I can tell you that this Classic Flicks Edition BRD surpasses my expectations. Is it perect, No...but again, considering the materials that currently exsist for this movie, I applaude them for a job well done.
I could see where the minor issues were, but truly it was noticable...the scenes in the final confrontation between the Hero and Caliostro had the most damage, and I believe that CF did the best they could. This is the cleanest and most balenced visually I have ever seen it.

And I agree that they should have put more into the bonus materails other than promoting thier other titles. There should have been bonus material on the movie it'self even a comparision study on the restoration work, giving a backstory for relevence on the project!!

As mentioned before, if you compair this edition to the youtube trash that is out there, you must agree with me that this CF BRD is as good as it gets!!
 

jayembee

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Agree with your assessment.

I have to say that I was a bit croggled when the disc spun up and started playing the trailer for Tomorrow Is Forever. I started to say to myself, "But they did this one already..." and then realized, "Oh, of course, it's another release in their catalog with Orson Welles".
 

Capt D McMars

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Agree with your assessment.

I have to say that I was a bit croggled when the disc spun up and started playing the trailer for Tomorrow Is Forever. I started to say to myself, "But they did this one already..." and then realized, "Oh, of course, it's another release in their catalog with Orson Welles".
Yeah that kind of surprised me too!! I should have been in the bonus materials, personally.