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Black Magic (1949 film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Black Magic
Theatrical release poster
Directed byGregory Ratoff
Orson Welles (uncredited)
Screenplay byCharles Bennett
Richard Schayer
Based onMémoires d'un médecin: Joseph Balsamo
1846-8 novel
by Alexandre Dumas
Produced byGregory Ratoff
Dario Sabatello
Edward Small
StarringOrson Welles
Nancy Guild
Akim Tamiroff
CinematographyUbaldo Arata
Anchise Brizzi
Edited byFred R. Feitshans Jr.
James C. McKay
Music byPaul Sawtell
Edward Small Productions
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • August 19, 1949 (1949-08-19)
Running time
105 minutes
CountriesUnited States
Budget250,000,000 lire[1] ($1.5 million[2])

Black Magic is a 1949 American adventure drama romance film adaptation of Alexandre Dumas's novel Joseph Balsamo. It was directed by Gregory Ratoff. Set in the 18th century, the film stars Orson Welles in the lead role as Joseph Balsamo, a hypnotist, magician, and charlatan who also goes by the alias of Count Cagliostro, and Nancy Guild as Lorenza/Marie Antoinette. Akim Tamiroff has a featured role as Gitano. The film received mixed reviews.

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  • Black Magic 1949 opening credits Sawtell music
  • Halas & Batchelor: Charley's Black Magic (1949) | BFI National Archive



Alexandre Dumas, Sr. (Berry Kroeger) tells his son Alexandre Dumas, Jr. (Raymond Burr) the story of Joseph Balsamo (Orson Welles) aka Cagliostro. Through flashbacks we learn that Balsamo was a French gypsy boy who endured much hardship. He was tortured under the command of Viscount de Montaigne (Stephen Bekassy) and his parents were ordered to hang. He was rescued by some gypsies led by Gitano and swears revenge on de Montagne.

Some years later, he learns the secrets of hypnosis from Dr. Mesmer (Charles Goldner). Ignoring the doctor's advice that he use his powers for healing, he exploits his new talent to the full, gaining wealth, fame and prestige. After changing his name to Count Cagliostro, he becomes famous throughout Europe.

Things begin to go downhill when he enters a plot to substitute a young girl called Lorenza (Nancy Guild) for Queen Marie Antoinette along with gypsies Gitano (Akim Tamiroff) and Zoraida (Valentina Cortese). The plot is organised by de Montaigne in association with Madame du Barry. They plan for Lorenza to impersonate the Queen and buy a frivolous necklace.

Zoraida becomes jealous of Lorenza, who has fallen under Cagliostro's power, forgetting her true love, Gilbert. Gilbert runs away with Lorenza. Cagliostro recaptures her and marries her, hypnotised.

King Louis XV dies and Marie Antoinette becomes queen. She orders Cagliostro to leave the country. Cagliostro gets Lorenza to impersonate the Queen and pretend to be in love with de Montaigne. He buys the necklace and the Queen's reputation is damaged (true Affair of the Diamond Necklace).

Zoraida brings Lorenza to Marie Antoinette and reveals Cagliostro's plot. Lorenza agrees to testify against Cagliostro, but at the trial, Cagliostro hypnotizes her into stating that she knows nothing. Cagliostro hypnotizes Gilbert into testifying against the queen.

However, Dr. Mesmer then uses the necklace to hypnotize Cagliostro into confessing. Cagliostro awakens from his trance and escapes with the hypnotized Lorenza. Gilbert pursues them and kills Cagliostro in a sword fight.



The movie was originally known as Cagliostro. Producer Edward Small went through a number of directors and stars in trying to get this film off the ground, starting in 1943.[3] Charles Boyer was to star with Akim Tamiroff, and Irving Pichel directing, then in early 1944 J. Carrol Naish was reported to play Alexandre Dumas, Sr. Later that year, George Sanders was announced as the star with Douglas Sirk directing.[4] Louis Hayward was also at one stage announced to star.[5]

In 1943 Hedda Hopper suggested Orson Welles should play the lead role.[6] He signed in September 1947.[7]

In 1947, Small was to make the film in Mexico, but dropped those plans when it turned out to be more expensive to shoot there than he expected – so the location of shooting was changed to Italy, where Small could use blocked lira.[8] Small borrowed Gregory Ratoff, Frank Latimore and Nancy Guild from Twentieth Century-Fox and took over the Scalera studios in Rome from early October 1947 to late January 1948.[9][10]

Charles Bennett, who wrote the script, said José Ferrer was supposed to play the lead but he demanded a three-picture contract from Small who refused. Bennett later said Ratoff and Welles rewrote the film, but he admired Welles' performance.

Orson Welles said Small ("no mean master of suggestion, by the way") approached him "very cleverly with the role of Cagliostro. He waited 'til I had reread the Dumas novels and become so 'hypnotised' by the scoundrel that I felt I had to play him. Then Small announced casually, 'Gregory Ratoff is going to direct'. That cinched it. Gregory is a great friend, and more fun to work with than anybody I know."[11]

United Artists were so enthusiastic about the film they agreed to distribute the film for 25% of the profits as opposed to their usual fee of 27.5%.[12] Welles allegedly directed several scenes in the film, which was released on 18 August 1949.[13]


Reviews were mixed.[14][15]

The 2006 film Fade to Black has Welles (Danny Huston) involved in a murder mystery while in Rome for the production of Black Magic.


  1. ^ Variety (7 April 2018). "Variety (December 1947)". New York: Variety Publishing Company – via Internet Archive.
  2. ^ Variety (7 April 2018). "Variety (November 1947)". New York: Variety Publishing Company – via Internet Archive.
  3. ^ Schallert, Edwin (June 14, 1943). "DRAMA AND FILM: Ann Blyth Adolescent Song Joust Contender College Professor Battling Illiterates; 'Cagliostro' Once Again Coming to Life". Los Angeles Times. p. 14.
  4. ^ Schallert, Edwin (Sep 1, 1944). "Andy Russell Touted as Mexico's Sinatra: Bing Crosby Will Fill Guest-Star Spot in Filmization of 'Duffy's Tavern'". Los Angeles Times. p. 10.
  5. ^ FRED STANLEY (Feb 11, 1945). "HOLLYWOOD HITS JAPS: East and West Old Londontown VARIED HOLLYWOOD ACTIVITIES One Down, More to Go Title Problem". New York Times. p. X1.
  6. ^ Hopper, Hedda (July 2, 1943). "Looking at Hollywood...". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. 17.
  7. ^ THOMAS F. BRADY (Sep 22, 1947). "CAGLIOSTRO' LEAD TO ORSON WELLES: Small Signs Actor for Film to Be Made in Italy With an American Cast". New York Times. p. 28.
  8. ^ "'BURLESQUE' AGAIN TO BE MADE A FILM: Fox Purchases Screen Rights to 1928 Play -- Jessel Named to Produce New Version" By THOMAS F. BRADY New York Times 6 Sep 1947: 11.
  9. ^ Schallert, Edwin (Feb 8, 1948). "Europe Becomes Merely 'Location' to Hollywood". Los Angeles Times. p. D1.
  10. ^ "HISTORIC 'SET': Poor Benefit by Use of Roman Church in Film" Rome. New York Times 16 Jan 1949: X4
  11. ^ ORSON WELLES (Apr 17, 1949). "OUT OF A TRANCE". New York Times. p. X4.
  12. ^ Variety (7 April 2018). "Variety (March 1949)". New York, NY: Variety Publishing Company – via Internet Archive.
  13. ^ Black Magic at the TCM Movie Database
  14. ^ "All Over Town" T. M. P.. New York Times 9 Nov 1949: 37.
  15. ^ Scheuer, Philip K. (Aug 19, 1949). "Orson Welles Pulls Mass Hypnosis Act on Us All". Los Angeles Times. p. B5.

External links

This page was last edited on 19 December 2023, at 14:49
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