Home Page > Movies Index (w/mixed oldies) > > Movie Review

This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

To Your Health

The Magician (1958) on IMDb

Plot Overview

A horse-drawn cart plods along a bucolic lane carrying silent mesmerist Herr Albert Emanuel Vogler (Max Von Sydow), his wifely assistant Manda “Mr. Aman” Vogler (Ingrid Thulin)—who's reading a novel about swindling—, Granny Vogler (Naima Wifstrand) with her ersatz ambrosia, pushing 200 but doesn't look a day over 99, under­appreciated Tubal (Åke Fridell) munching down a baguette, and the young, hand­some coach driver Simson (Lars Ekborg) who's sadly lacking experience with women. By and by, they pick up Johan Spegel (Bengt Ekerot) a derelict alcoholic cast out from Stenbörg Troupe. He asks Herr Vogler, “Are you a swindler who must conceal his face?” Vogler is made up for the stage.

The reputation of Vogler's Magnetic Health Theater precedes them. In the next town they are welcomed into the home of Consul Egerman (Erland Joseph­son) and his wife Ottilia (Gertrud Fridh.) They're required to put on a private exhibition the following day for Police Super­inten­dent Star­beck (Toivo Pawlo) and Minister of Health Dr. Vergérus (Gunnar Björn­strand) who will ascertain whether there's any funny business going on. They flat out confess that theirs is just a harm­less show of entertainment using mechanical devices, not magic per se, but the super­stitious public wants to believe in spirits, love potions, and mysterious forces.


hymnalWhile I wouldn't call “The Magician” Christian-themed, I could categorize it as Christian-friendly in a 1958 kind of way. They manage to hymn a “song of trust in the Lord,” and Johan Spegel fervently prays, “Use me. Make me your servant!” Dr. Vergérus the disbeliever laments: “You seem to regret the fact and wish it were other­wise. But there are no miracles. It's always the props and the patter that must do the work. The clergy's in the same sad boat. God is silent while men babble on.”

This last is reflective of the apostle Paul chiding the Corinthian believers for discounting the resurrection (1Cor. 15:12-15). A no-resurrection theology would have serious repercussions for their Christian faith (1Cor. 15:16-18). After suffering persecution for their testimony and denying them­selves pleasures in this life, it would be a real bummer if there were no after­life to get rewarded in. As Paul puts it, (1Cor. 15:19) “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”

This bedraggled theater troupe is in a parallel situation after they've tried as a last resort to spook the scientist by staging a resurrection event only to have him brush it off with, “You intro­duced a momentary fear of death.” They are “ruined financially, wanted by the police, and now [accompanied by] a corpse in our coach.” They are like the poor, persecuted Corinthians lacking comfort of a resurrected savior; they are “of all men most miserable.”

Production Values

This magnetic health theatrical piece, “” (1958) was written and directed by Ingmar Bergman who was inspired by G.K. Chesterton's play, “Magic.” Its original Swedish title was “Ansiktet” which means “The Face”, as it explored the differences between public and private faces. The production company has given it a jazzier name. It stars Max von Sydow, Ingrid Thulin, Gunnar Björnstrand, and Bibi Andersson. The whole cast did a splendid job. Gunnar Björnstrand and Ingrid Thulin especially stood out.

This 1958 Swedish film is not rated. The character Vogler was based on Bergman himself. Mesmerism, also known as animal magnetism, was invented by German physician Franz Mesmer (1734–1815). This movie is set in 1846 and depicts many of its features: women in a state of ecstasy, healing energy flow, power of suggestion, and accompanying fragile tones from a glass harmonica behind a curtain. Mesmerism ran afoul of science after its practitioners took to mesmerizing trees to pass on its magnetic field to devotees indirectly. Some­one decided to subject the trees to a double-blind test. Never­the­less, parts of it still survive in hypnotism and Reiki. The cinema­tog­raphy, especially in the early scenes, is first rate. The pacing of the movie is expert, and there are clever parallels in the story.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

The critics were disappointed that “Ansiktet” didn't live up to their expectations derived from Bergman's earlier great films. Over time, though, they've come to appreciate it on its own merits. I think it's a good 1950s flick and is a welcome break from many a modern-era film that can be over­whelming. It would be a peaceful picture to watch late at night, its spooky elements notwithstanding.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Decent action scenes Suitability for children: Not rated. Special effects: Well done special effects Video Occasion: Fit For a Friday Evening Suspense: A few suspenseful moments Overall movie rating: Four stars out of five.