The Magus (1968)
Anytime I have come across a written sentence or two about this film adapted for the screen by the novel’s author John Fowles, I’ve usually found the word boring, meandering and a verse or two about how it makes very little sense.
I had to see for myself and yes, that can pretty much sum things up. Still……
For starters it has two actors that I generally make any attempt to catch on screen, Michael Caine (my 81st film seen) and Anthony Quinn ( my 94th). Those are pretty high numbers so this one was long overdue. I am glad I watched it at an older age though as I looked for more in the film then I would have if I’d seen it as a teen on late night TV. Then again as a teen over twenty years ago I probably would have appreciated the bare breasts flashed briefly on screen at a time when it wasn’t the norm it is today.
Plot wise this is confusing and perhaps I’m not scholarly enough to fully comprehend what’s going on. I kind of have an idea but if so, it’s really just a flashy attempt by the film makers to make an “arty” film.
Caine plays an English teacher who arrives on a Greek Island to do just that, teach English at the Lord Byron School.
He’s hardly there fifteen minutes when he encounters a secluded villa where a balding Tony Quinn resides. Now we have to figure out just who Quinn really is. Does he exist at all? Perhaps he’s just alive in Caine’s mind. Then we have the mysterious Candice (you can call me Candy) Bergen coming in and out of camera range.
“I saw a girl! Not a ghost.” says a confused Caine to Quinn.
Think of this as Michael Caine’s attempt at a dry run for his classic role in Sleuth.
“Am I your guest or a victim?” he poses to Quinn.
Plenty of flashbacks fill the narrative with both Caine and his English lover Anna Karina and Quinn presenting himself looking younger in WW2 and his role in the island’s occupation by the German war machine. If we could take the Quinn scenes from WW2 and trasport them too an actual war time drama you have the makings for a great Quinn film. It’s just not in here.
Looking at the plus side the film is stunning in it’s location work having been filmed in Spain, Greece and England. The first half hour has a mystery to it that is heightened by the score from John Dankworth. Caine and Quinn are pros so there’s nothing amiss with there performances. It’s just that it adds up to a flat two hour film.
Apparently this is the only screenplay from Fowles who also penned the novel The Collector which was turned into a first rate thriller from William Wyler. Aside from Quinn and Caine fans, your better off going with that one if you’d prefer to see a much better film then the one we wound up with here from director Guy Green.