The Magic Face

Frank Tuttle

T. it.: La grande vendetta. Scen.: Mort Briskin, Robert  Smith. F.: Tony Braun. M.: Henrietta Brunsch. Scgf.: Edward Stolba. Mus.: Herschel Burke Gilbert. Int.: Luther Adler (Janus the Great/[Karl] Vogel), Patricia Knight (Vera Janus), William L. Shirer (himself), Ilka Windish (Carla Harbach), Heinz Moog (Hans  Harbach), Peter Preses (Warden), Manfred Inger (Heinrich Wagner), Jasper Von Oertzen (majorWeinrich), Charles Koenig (Franz), Toni Mitterwurzer (Hans), Annie Maiers (Mariana). Prod.: Mort  Briskin, Robert Smith per Columbia Pictures Corp. 35mm. D.: 88'. Bn.

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

Whether a Nuremberg pageantry or Moscow trials, there was a supreme stagecraft that dictated not only the forms of history but history itself. Needs to be added only that all the dictators of the age were enthusiastic about movies. Thus The Magic Face is not only good showmanship but something from the essence of its times, placing actor (like Lubitsch did in his brilliant To Be or Not to Be) into the center of world politics. The protagonist Karl or ‘Janus the Great’ is played by Luther Adler, a famous theatre actor (and brother of Stella Adler) and well-know screen presence who has seldom been better. The starter is his impersonation of the notables of the times: Mussolini, Haile Selassie, Chamberlain. The show is visited by an even greater name, Hitler himself, who in a simple gesture orders the wife of Adler to follow him. The seduction (an untypical gesture for Hitler whose rich repertory of vices did not include bawdiness) does not go unpunished: Hitler gets a malicious shadow who happens to be brilliant imitator. Karl/Adler is arrested but escapes from prison, again helped by his acting talents; and then the role of nazi officer which gives him a clue to proceed higher. Which succeeds, and we have him as Hitler’s valet. The estranged wife of Luther, Vera – we might see characteristics of Eva Braun in her – has to face the final surprise of her life, as she experiences the sight of her husband – under the mask of Hitler (as almost an image of Hollywood then: with the antifascist emigrant actors usually playing the roles of the worst Nazis). The dictator himself sips a poisonous glass of milk and will be burnt at the court. The Magic Face starts with the great reporter William L. Shirer talking to us, in the midst of ruins and in the front of Hitler’s bunker. He presents in blank face an unbelievable fiction, and is exactly the right person to do so. When else was reality anyway so much more improbable than any fiction? The film belongs to the interesting minority of Frank Tuttle’s (whose finest film might be the tough noir This Gun for Hire) large output; he was a party member since the 1930s, and in difficulties with the blacklist at the time of the making of The Magic Face. The film was written by Robert Smith and Mort Briskin, two independent producers behind the film.                                                                                  

                                                                                                                           Peter von Bagh 

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