Black Magic

6.41 h 36 min19497+
A recount of the life and times of notorious 18th-century hypnotist/magician/scam artist Cagliostro. Learning the secrets of hypnosis from Dr. Mesmer, Cagliostro exploits this skill to gain wealth, prestige.
Gregory Ratoff
Orson WellesCharles GoldnerNancy Guild
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Supporting actors
Akim TamiroffValentina Cortese
Gregory RatoffEdward Small
Westchester Corpor
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3.9 out of 5 stars

73 global ratings

  1. 51% of reviews have 5 stars
  2. 14% of reviews have 4 stars
  3. 20% of reviews have 3 stars
  4. 8% of reviews have 2 stars
  5. 8% of reviews have 1 stars
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Top reviews from the United States

Karen AmrheinReviewed in the United States on June 28, 2014
4.0 out of 5 stars
The eyes have it!
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I learned of this film in Jeffrey Richards' indispensable book, "Swordsmen of the Screen", a compendium and appreciation of the swashbuckler. I purchased the DVD based on Richards' enthusiastic review.

"Black Magic" is a strange film. It's not really a swashbuckler, though it certainly has many of the elements of one (historical European or Europeanized setting, swordplay, gentleman hero, stylized rather than realistic characters with stereotypical emotions, and sumptuous costumes and sets). "Black Magic" also has a touch of the classic horror film, the thriller, the film noir, and the classic Hollywood drama. I'll file it with my swashbucklers, but with an asterisk, especially because it lacks humor, almost required of the genre.

The movie is good, with a typical bravura performance from Orson Welles, who plays an antihero who gradually becomes an all-out villain. The rest of the ensemble is, perhaps inevitably, cast in his shadow, but no one is detrimental to the story, which tells of a gypsy, Joseph Balsamo (who takes the name, Cagliostro) whose parents were unjustly hanged by a wicked nobleman and who (Balsamo / Cagliostro) inherits his mother's paranormal talents, in his case, hypnotism. Cagliostro employs his hypnotic eyes in a political intrigue, but falls in love with the instrument of that intrigue, a woman who resembles Marie Antoinette.

There's a lot of palace politics; inciting of mobs; a couple sword duels, most notably a thrilling climax atop a roof hundreds of feet above the Paris streets; romance; and a court trial. The trial is perhaps the weakest part of the plot, but the film is never less than entertaining, and frequently gripping, and sometimes chilling! It's certainly worth a look for fans of Orson Welles, for swashbuckler completists, and for classic film aficionados in general.
6 people found this helpful
Mark MillerReviewed in the United States on June 21, 2013
5.0 out of 5 stars
Black Magic: A Tale of Adventure and Revenge
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Orson Welles did not direct Black Magic, but he certainly influenced it. The film has a number of elements that were familiar in Welles' work of the 1940s: The mixtures of light, shadow, and darkness, present in Citizen Kane and Jane Eyre, and the character falling to his death from a rooftop, as in The Stranger, all show the Welles' touch.
Then there is the presence of Welles himself. With a Machiavellian face and Rasputin-like eyes, he portrays Cagliostro, an 18th Century hypnotist, healer, and con artist whose machinations shook the throne of pre-revolutionary France. But the story is actually narrated by Alexander Dumas, who, in 1848, is telling his son of his struggle to write a novel based on the life of Cagliostro.
As Dumas' tale unfolds, we learn that Cagliostro was in reality a gypsy named Joseph Balsamo, whose mother had a gift of clairvoyance. But at a time when superstition reigned, clairvoyance was seen as witchcraft, and gypsies were often suspected of practicing black magic. When Joseph was a boy his mother and father were charged with casting a spell that killed a villagers' child. Judging the case is cruel Viscount de Montagne, who not only sentences Joseph's mother and father to be hanged, but Joseph to be whipped and blinded as well. Fellow gypsies rescue the boy before the blinding can take place, but not before he is brutally flogged and forced to watch his parents' execution. The boy vows vengeance.
Revenge was a frequent theme in the works of Alexander Dumas, and it is employed here to great effect. Joseph grows up to become a gypsy carnival magician and snake-oil salesman. But when he discovers that he can use his gift of hypnosis to heal the sick and charge them a great deal of money for it, he changes his name to Count Cagliostro and sweeps across Europe, curing people of all manner of illnesses with his penetrating eyes. Eventually his success brings him into contact with the Viscount de Montagne, who, not knowing Cagliostro's true identity, involves him in a plot to substitute a look-alike for Marie Antoinette. Cagliostro sees this as his chance for revenge.
But even as he is plotting his revenge on de Montagne, Cagliostro's egotism is getting out of control. He starts to think of himself as a god, and believes there are no limits to what he can do. In the end, this brings about his downfall.
Black Magic is a movie about hypnotism, magic, revenge and ambition. If you're a fan of Orson Welles and you like the kind of adventure stories Alexander Dumas was a master of, Black Magic is one you should own.
6 people found this helpful
SharpReviewed in the United States on May 9, 2015
5.0 out of 5 stars
Orsen Welles at his best portrays of a gypsy with hypnotic powers
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Orsen Welles at his best portrays of a gypsy with hypnotic powers. I had never heard of this movie and could not take my eyes off the film, because I did not want to miss one detail. It was That good. A young gypsy attains his mother's magical, healing, hypnotic powers upon both parents being hanged under false charges, without mercy. Forced to watch his parents death, the young son vows to reign vengeance upon their murderers. Everything goes as planned as he grows into maturity, until he falls in love with a young girl who bears a striking resemblance to Marie Antoinette, Queen of France. His gift turns to madness upon the Marie Antoinette look-alike rejects his affections and falls in love with a guard of the court. Thus, proving that love cannot be commanded upon a person, when she loves another. Magnificent black and white film. I am glad it was retrieved from oblivion to be shared with the world.
6 people found this helpful
JWC IIReviewed in the United States on August 24, 2021
5.0 out of 5 stars
Fun Fun Fun :) :) :)
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This will be released on October 26th, 2021. Can't wait to pre-order this on Blu-ray.
Another "TOP" performance from Orson Welles. Won't be disappointed with purchase.
First US release onto the Blu-ray format. Be safe & well, have fun, with both family & friends (even If by phone). :) :) :)

08-24-2021 A.D.
@2:34pm PDT
JulianReviewed in the United States on July 1, 2013
4.0 out of 5 stars
Flawed gem
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A great film in many respects but it is ruined by Orson Wells playing a largely fictionalized story of Cagliostro.Why the made up story line is a bit hard to fathom as his real story was far more interesing and just as fascinating as the life off of John Dee and Sir Edward kelly or Crowley or many a other magus. If the story was of a man claiming to be a magician and trickster of another name than it would stand but intead it creates a increasingly false history of Cagliostro which despite what Dumas says in the begining of the film, we actually know a very great deal. Needless to say, the film makes up more that is false about Cagliostro that what is true. Cagliostro certaintly did not die in a sword fight high over the Paris streets but lived on another 17 years after the events shown in the story arriving in Rome and even meet the Pope and was later jailed then forgiven by his Holyness. Cagliostro was also a bit more of a magician than shown in the film as wells plays him off little more than a trickster who stumbled on the powers of Hypnosis-Did Wells spend more than a hour with the biography of Cagliostro before putting together a script? Well acted, intriguing, but 65% historically rubbish.Despite all of that, well worth seeing. Dear God, wouldn't it have been amazing to see Wells play the life story of Aleister Crowley instead?
2 people found this helpful
J. MooreReviewed in the United States on July 27, 2007
5.0 out of 5 stars
Classic, I wish they'd release this on DVD
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This movie has it all: swashbuckling action, intrigue, romance, mind control, and Orson Welles. Wells plays the historical figue Joseph Balsamo, who later styles himself Count Cagliostro (a la the Count of Monte Christo). Balsamo was a poor Sicilian con man who wheedled his way into many a royal court in Europe before finally getting arrested by the Inquisition in Rome. This movie is very fictionalized account of the infamous "affair of the necklace", a controversy involving Marie Antoinette.

Welles delivers a stunning performance as the anti-hero/anti-villain Cagliostro who uses flim flam and the power of suggestion (like Mesmer) to gain power over people. Notably, Raymond Burr plays a small role in the film (look for him in the first few minutes of the movie.

The sets, costumes, and cinematography are stunning - making for a wonderful period piece. The cinematography is very good, despite the fact that Welles didn't direct this film. The film is black and white and, I believe, orginally released in 1949

My biggest complaint is that I have only been able to find this film on VHS tape from 1987. My copy is in good shape, but the film begs to be re-released on DVD.
9 people found this helpful
Chuck SnowReviewed in the United States on December 28, 2012
5.0 out of 5 stars
This Release is REGION 1
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This review is for the November 2012 Hen's Tooth DVD release of "Black Magic", and it is aimed at those of you who may opt not to purchase this stunningly produced and photographed black & white gem because of misinformation.

First of all, it is NOT a Region 2 DVD. It is a Region 1 DVD, as clearly stated in the product details section, and it WILL play on ANY US DVD player.

If you've never seen this sumptuous 1949 costume movie and you enjoy this genre you absolutely must acquire it. I have not seen this goody on cable - ever, but I remember a local station in my hometown showing it often many years ago. Maybe there have been some copywright complications that have kept this film from circulation all these many decades, but it' a good thing that it is available once again in a beautifully restored print.

The film was shot in Italy using at times real locales. The only drawback for me is that I wish the studio had beefed up the budget and photographed it in Technicolor.

The plot deals with a boy whose mother is cruelly executed. The boy grows up to become Cagliostro, a famous magician and charlatan. Cagliostro then becomes involved in a plot to destroy the man responsible for the mother's death. Unfortunately, things get out of hand. This is the notorious "necklace" episode involving Queen Marie Antoinette that you have probably seen in the more recent Hilary Swank version. Except I think this oldie is a lot more fun, if nothing else for Orson Welles' usually hammy performance matched scene by scene by Mr. Tamiroff, scene stealer supreme. Enough to say that that other wonderful ham, Gregory Ratoff (of All About Eve fame) directed this, so that may explain the acting style that prevails. The only weak link is the gorgeous Nancy Guild, (playing two roles) who tries to overcome the miscasting, but lacks the necesary technique to do so.

One more piece of trivia: the last sword duel atop a tower is quite reminiscent of a similar climax in the later (1958), Kirk Douglas-Tony Curtis starrer, "The Vikings."

Warning: if you expect total commitment to history, let me remind you that this epic does not pretend to be a documentary, only sheer escapism, so some liberties were taken with the real facts, or so I've been told.
13 people found this helpful
Scott PrazakReviewed in the United States on March 11, 2012
5.0 out of 5 stars
Hen's Tooth does it again!!!
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When the name Orson Welles is mentioned, the knee-jerk responses are usually Citizen Kane, War Of The Worlds, and the Mercury Theater. Black Magic came out in 1949 and has gone largely unnoticed unfortunately. Based on the book Memoirs of a Physician by Alexandre Dumas, the film focuses on the character Count Cagliostro (Welles), his rise from a gypsy carnival faker to a world renowned hypnotist drunk with power and revenge against the man who killed his parents when he was a child, and his obsession with a beautiful woman whose physical resemblance to Marie Antoinette he uses in his plan for conquest.

The big positives here are Orson of course and the terrific film score by Paul Sawtell. Despite a chilling performance by Welles and good direction from Gregory Ratoff, weak performances from the supporting cast particularly Nancy Guild and Frank Latimore kind of leave this a bit flat in spots. The additional cast is pretty solid. Akim Tamiroff always gives 100%, and Stephen Bekassy plays a real good nasty. I wish there was more of him in this.

Hen's Tooth Video has brought some of the best and hardest to find classics to DVD such as [[ASIN:B0064MT1L2 The Count of Monte Cristo]], [[ASIN:B006W95BTS The Corsican Brothers]], and [[ASIN:B0068Y4NBY Man in the Iron Mask]]. Finally they caught this gem. The sound quality is very good, and the video (although a little grainy in spots) is very good as well.

No additional features on this DVD; just the feature with a scene index. No complaints from me though. To at last get a region 1 DVD of this is quite the blessing!
18 people found this helpful
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