Sevengali + Mad Magician ? A Budget= Barely Watchable.
Doghouse King | Omaha, NE United States | 07/31/2002
(2 out of 5 stars)
"I almost gave this 3 stars, then I remembered how turgid the buildup to the supposed climax was, and how contrived, improbable and lazily directed (by Lew Landers of Return of the Vampire) the "poetic justice" ending was, and so I took a star away.This is a cheap movie which spins the tale of an angry and paranoid Von Stroheim, a formerly-great magician who now sits and broods and makes intense eyes at his wife while reading books on hypnotism. This is actually endurable for quite a long time, as the many close-ups of Von Stroheim's mug give him ample opportunity to utilize his many subtle yet weird facial expressions. His forehead alone is capable of 496 different wrinkle patterns, denoting fear, resentfulness, jealousy, disappointment, hate, dislike, intense dislike, detestment, amusement, and constipation, to name but a few.But this movie is padded, and belongs to the school of thought which believes that slow in and of itself equals suspenseful. It will come as no surprise to even unsavvy viewers that Diijon (note the exotic second 'i') believes his wife of carrying on with the piano player where he made a semi-disastrous one-night comeback. (Actually, I thought his act went OK; I mean, he basically levitated a woman. So what if she fell after a while? Let's see your hoity-toity piano player do make a chick float!) Anyway, Von Stroheim's jealousy drives him to murder.There is an interesting scene as V.S. walks down a foggy street hearing mocking laughter and seeing jeering faces. One can wonder if this at all parallels his real feelings, after his fall from grace in Hollywood, before his role in Sunset Blvd., when this Poverty Row material was all he could land. I'm not suggesting of course that he was behind any murders, but the glint of insanity in his saddened, sunken eyes was abnormally convincing.Anyhoo, he learns he can hypnotize people with his cigarette lighter and his forehead, and succeeds spectacularly at this with a robber and a newsstand operator. How he got the notion to try his cigarette lighter in his moment of greatest doubt, the screenwriter leaves to the imagination of the audience. Some other stuff happens. Then Von Stroheim hatches his main plot to get his wife to shoot the piano player, if I may borrow the title of a movie from a more famous director.This occurs with about 197 minutes left in the film, which explains the slooowww buildup I mentioned earlier. There's lots of walking and talking and a momentum-killing song. Then she shoots. But alas, the best laid plans of mice and men and magicians who also happen to be men... (She had grabbed a gun full of blanks. D'oh!)Then there is a fast-paced but ultimately stupid chase and shootout and the villain meets his demise in the most unlikely way I can think of without introducing giant spiders into the plot. Actually, it makes some sense, but it's just so badly done.Too slow to be much fun in many places, too predictable, and too phony at the finish to really recommend..."