Color, 1968, 116 mins. 16 secs.
Directed by Guy Green
Starring Anthony Quinn, Michael Caine, Candice Bergen, Anna Karina, Paul Stassino, Julian Glover
Signal One (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL), Fox (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

The Magus

The MagusA popular author of literary mind games that became unlikely besteller sensations, John Fowles became an overnight star thanks to his crafty 1963 thriller The Collector, which was successfully filmed two years later by William Wyler (who dispensed with its tricky dual narrator structure entirely). The second of three big screen adaptations of Fowles's work (followed by The French Lieutenant's Woman in 1981) is easily the most critically divisive: The Magus, a mind-bending story about magic and deception on a remote Greek island.

In this case Fowles himself wrote the screenplay for this adaptation directed by Guy Green (A Patch of Blue), though the novelist was vocally unhappy about how the production turned out (as he was also about The Collector, oddly enough). Caine and Bergen weren't fans of the experience either, but time has been rather kind to the film; its glossy '60s chic atmosphere and sunny European atmosphere make for an engaging experience if you're in the right mood, as long as you don't try to focus too heavily on following a traditional plot. Caine stars here as Nicholas Urfe, an English schoolteacher who arrives at an upscale Greek island The Magusto instruct the local children. When not taking dips in the sea, he explores the island and stumbles onto the villa of Maurice Conchis (Quinn), a strange and imposing man who claims he was expecting The MagusNicholas to arrive. Informed that the previous teacher in his position committed suicide and that the mystery house isn't owned by Conchis, Nicholas, who's pulling away from a rocky relationship with Anne (Karina), decides to explore further and spends a great deal of time with Conchis and his enigmatic companion, Lily (Bergen). Soon reality and fantasy begin to merge disturbingly as Conchis, a fan of games and magical illusions, pulls the new arrival into a strange cycle of performances and contests involving Nazi persecution and multiple identities.

Long a critical punching bag, The Magus was unavailable on home video entirely until its DVD premiere from Fox in 2006 along with another equally elusive '60s Caine film, Deadfall. That edition looked very good at the time and came with the theatrical trailer and a 22-minute featurette, "John Fowles: The Literary Magus" (22m45s), with a number of talking head scholars including The Magusbiographer Eileen Warburton, editor Ray Roberts, professor Dianne The MagusVipond and admirer Bob Goosmann talking about his life and work. Much more substantial is the 2017 UK edition from Signal One, a dual-format Blu-ray and DVD release sporting a crystal clear transfer that makes the gorgeous photography and scenery truly intoxicating to watch. There's really not a flaw in sight here, and the bigger the screen you can watch the Blu-ray on, the better. The LPCM English mono audio (with optional English SDH subtitles sounds excellent as well. (For the record, the DVD featured both the original mono mix and a disposable, barely distinguishable stereo remix.)

Both the featurette and trailer from the DVD have been carried over, with a hefty batch of new material added as well. In "Enchanted Island: Michael Green on the Filming of The Magus" (22m3s), the first of two Fiction Factory featurettes, the director's son recalls his time as a youth on the set of the production and the positive experience the filmmaker had mounting it in Mallorca. He also points out Fowles's cameo early in the film and shares some amusing stories about fetching beverages for the cast and mixing up a lighting equipment request. The director himself appears in "Guy Green: A Life Behind the Camera" (22m22s), with occasional comments from Michael, covering the path of his career from his first The Magusbig break via David Lean (including an Oscar win for his cinematography of Great Expectations) through his extensive career in British and The MagusAmerican cinema. Cinematographer Billy Williams (Women in Love) appears for a new interview (12m15s) covering the reason the film wasn't shot in Spain and why Bergen's exterior close ups had to be shot near the end of the day, and as with other participants, he finds the film "strange" and "unfathomable." He also explains how Quinn was made to feel welcome on the first day of shooting and notes how he likes his camera to be supportive of wherever the actors want to go. Set designer Tim Hutchinson, son of the film's art director William Hutchinson, appears next for a chat (10m22) about choosing the locations and determining which sets had to be constructed, with interpreters used for local labor. Finally hairdresser Stephanie Kaye recalls in a brief piece (5m43s) the challenges of showing Quinn's variable appearances between the past and present via toupees and bleach and tells a crazy story about Bergen having her eye makeup done in the dark.

Reviewed on April 28, 2017.