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Magic Fire (1955)

 -  Biography | Drama  -  29 March 1956 (USA)
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The life and career of German composer Richard Wagner.

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(screenplay), (screenplay), 2 more credits »
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
Carlos Thompson ...
Rita Gam ...
...
Alan Badel ...
...
Frederick Valk ...
Minister von Moll
Gerhard Riedmann ...
Erik Schumann ...
Robert Freitag ...
August Roeckel (as Robert Freytag)
Heinz Klingenberg ...
King of Saxonia
Charles Regnier ...
Giacomo Meyerbeer
Fritz Rasp ...
Kurt Großkurth ...
Magdeburg Theatre Manager (as Kurt Grosskurth)
Hans Quest ...
Robert Hubner
Edit

Storyline

The life and career of German composer Richard Wagner.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

trucolor | based on novel

Genres:

Biography | Drama

Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

29 March 1956 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Frauen um Richard Wagner  »

Company Credits

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 »
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Technical Specs

Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound Recording)

Color:

(Trucolor)
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Erich Wolfgang Korngold, who supervised and arranged the music of Wagner for this, his final film assignment, also appears on screen as famous conductor Hans Richter. Korngold had to take the small role when the actor originally cast failed to show up. With over 1000 extras in full costume on set, director William Dieterle pleaded with Korngold to take the non-speaking part, to save the shoot. See more »

Soundtracks

Sangerkrieg from Act 2, 'Tannhauser'
Composed by Richard Wagner
Performed by Otto Edelmann and Hans Hopf
Conducted by Alois Melichar
See more »

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User Reviews

 
Trying To Reach for Stars
1 September 2013 | by (Cieszyn, Poland) – See all my reviews

To film industry, Richard Wagner, an emblematic German composer of the 19th century, is rather known as a supporting character (the most memorable portrayal being the one by Trevor Howard in Visconti's LUDWIG). The film by William Dieterle (a name already known for THE LIFE OF EMIL ZOLA, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME with Laughton), MAGIC FIRE, called by some "choppy and episodic" puts the composer in the lead though being no biopic. And as soon as this far whilst reviewing such a film, we have to keep in mind the very period of its filming. Otherwise, an expectation appears: if it is a movie about a composer, we foresee something unconventional, something intriguing, neurotic, perhaps a but shocking and vibrant...but, that would be a product in the mode of Milos Forman's AMADEUS made 30 years later but never in the morally ordered, explicit films in the mode of 'school lesson' from the post-war period.

From the very opening shots, we do not need very learned viewers to predict it is far from 'a radiant stronghold of film art,' far from a faithful biopic, far from a thought provoking interpretation and yet, being an open minded viewer, one may find some strengths in Dieterle's film. Where do these strengths lie?

Firstly, it is in the entire visual aspect. Although the film cannot boast such a perfect digital restoration as some other products of its time, it offers images hard to skip. Exceptional subtlety in images, skillful handling of cinematography by Ernest Haller, some camera frames and elaborate costumes with splendid shots of idyllic nature may equal to most aesthetic screen experiences. Note, for instance, the scenes between Richard Wagner (Alan Badel) and Mathilde (Valentina Cortese), one being among the deleted scenes added to the disc as a bonus material. The glamor of palaces and elaborate interiors supply viewers with visual aestheticism. Great credit to art director Robert Herlth.

Secondly, it is the educational use of Wagner's operas throughout. While the episodic character of the movie where the action takes place in different cities of Europe (including Zuerich, Dresden, Venice and Paris) and the stories would perfectly affect the portmanteau concept, the stage scenes with the performances of Walkuere, Siegfried, Tannhaeuser, and other great works of the composer help viewers, at least, get to know the most significant masterpieces of our protagonist. In that respect, a note must be made of Erich Wolfgang Korngold and his significant contribution to the music in the film.

Thirdly, the film reached for the stars in one aspect: some performances. Here, however, in accordance with another title of the movie, we have our protagonist Richard Wagner played by Alan Badel and three women he loves: Minna Planer, his wife (Yvonne DeCarlo), Cosima (Rita Gam), and Mathide (Valentina Cortese). In addition, there is one man, the famous composer Franz Liszt played by Carlos Thompson. While women appear to evoke jealousy at love, the composer evokes jealousy at work (the creative conflicts are much more effectively developed in LUST FOR LIFE, another film of the 1950s but about a painter, not a musician). All the tensions, however, appear pale and flat. Alan Badel portrays Wagner quite well but, indeed, there is nothing special about him either. Seemingly identifying with Mozart and Beethoven (as he mentions quite often), the viewer could have got a clearer perception of his genius. Yet, his goes flat too seriously.

One performance stands on its own and appears to be highly underrated...it is Valentina Cortese's. She does not only look beautiful in the role wearing splendid costumes but combines all features that any composer and anyone would easily fall in love with. Pity she is given so little time on screen and some scenes with her are, as I have already mentioned, deleted.

And king Ludwig? As the film is not at all any historical or biographical aid and the figure is in the shadow of the composer (which puts in contrast the historical backbone presence of the composer in the king's life) Riedmann's portrayal will always remain pale and incomparable to the king's later screen incarnates...just an episodic performance, indeed.

I consider this film one among ordinary works which only tries to reach for the stars, no magic fire within viewing experience. Nevertheless, a production you can hardly tire of as well.


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