Black Magic (1949 film)

Black Magic

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Gregory Ratoff
Orson Welles (uncredited)
Produced by Gregory Ratoff
Screenplay by Charles Bennett
Richard Schayer
Based on Mémoires d'un médecin: Joseph Balsamo
1846-8 novel
by Alexandre Dumas
Starring Orson Welles
Nancy Guild
Akim Tamiroff
Music by Paul Sawtell
Cinematography Ubaldo Arata
Anchise Brizzi
Edited by Fred R. Feitshans Jr.
James C. McKay
Edward Small Productions
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
  • August 19, 1949 (1949-08-19) (United States)
  • November 8, 1949 (1949-11-08) (New York City, New York)
Running time
105 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget 250,000,000 lire[1] ($1.5 million[2])

Black Magic is a 1949 film adaptation of Alexandre Dumas's novel Joseph Balsamo. It was directed by the Russian-born Gregory Ratoff and stars Orson Welles in the lead role as Joseph Balsamo (aka 18th century hypnotist, magician and scam artist Count Cagliostro) and Nancy Guild as Lorenza/Marie Antoinette. Akim Tamiroff has a featured role.


Alexandre Dumas, Sr. (Berry Kroeger) tells his son Alexander Dumas, Jr. (Raymond Burr) the story of Joseph Balsamo (Orson Welles). Through flashbacks we learn that Balsamo was a French gypsy boy who endured much hardship. He was tortured under the command of Viscount de Montagne (Stephen Bekassy) and his parents were ordered to hang. Some years later, he learns the secrets of hypnosis from Dr. Mesmer (Charles Goldner). Ignoring the doctor's advice that he use his powers for healing, he exploits his new talent to the full, gaining wealth, fame and prestige. After changing his name to Count Cagliostro, he becomes famous all over Europe. Things begin to go downhill when he enters a plot to substitute a young girl called Lorenza (Nancy Guild) for the French queen Marie Antoinette along with gypsies Gitano (Akim Tamiroff) and Zoraida (Valentina Cortese).



The movie was originally known as Cagliostro. Producer Edward Small went through a number of directors and stars in trying to get this film off the ground, starting in 1943.[3] Charles Boyer was to star with Akim Tamiroff, and Irving Pichel directing, then in early 1944 J. Carrol Naish was reported to play Alexandre Dumas, Sr. Later that year, George Sanders was announced as the star with Douglas Sirk directing. [4] Louis Hayward was also at one stage announced to star.[5]

In 1943 Hedda Hopper suggested Orson Welles should play the lead role.[6] He signed in September 1947.[7]

In 1947, Small was to make the film in Mexico, but dropped those plans when it turned out to be more expensive to shoot there than he expected so the location of shooting was changed to Italy, where Small could use blocked lira.[8] Small borrowed Gregory Ratoff, Frank Latimore and Nancy Guild from Twentieth Century-Fox and took over the Scalera studios in Rome from early October 1947 to late January 1948.[9][10]

Orson Welles said Small ("no mean master of suggestion, by the way") approached him "very cleverly with the role of Cagliostro. He waited til I had reread the Dumas novels and become so "hypnotised" by the scoundrel that I felt I had to play him. Then Small announced casually, 'Gregory Ratoff is going to direct'. That cinched it. Gregory is a great friend, and more fun to work with than anybody I know."[11]

United Artists were so enthusiastic about the film they agreed to distribute the film for 25% of the profits as opposed to their usual fee of 27 1/2%.[12] Welles allegedly directed several scenes in the film, which was released on 18 August 1949.[13]


Reviews were mixed.[14][15]

The 2006 film Fade to Black has Welles (Danny Huston) involved in a murder mystery while in Rome for the production of Black Magic.


  3. DRAMA AND FILM: Ann Blyth Adolescent Song Joust Contender College Professor Battling Illiterates; 'Cagliostro' Once Again Coming to Life Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 14 June 1943: 14.
  4. Andy Russell Touted as Mexico's Sinatra: Bing Crosby Will Fill Guest-Star Spot in Filmization of 'Duffy's Tavern' Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 01 Sep 1944: 10.
  5. HOLLYWOOD HITS JAPS: East and West Old Londontown VARIED HOLLYWOOD ACTIVITIES One Down, More to Go Title Problem By FRED STANLEY. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 11 Feb 1945: X1
  6. Looking at Hollywood.... Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963) [Chicago, Ill] 02 July 1943: 17
  7. CAGLIOSTRO' LEAD TO ORSON WELLES: Small Signs Actor for Film to Be Made in Italy With an American Cast By THOMAS F. BRADY Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 22 Sep 1947: 28.
  8. BURLESQUE' AGAIN TO BE MADE A FILM: Fox Purchases Screen Rights to 1928 Play -- Jessel Named to Produce New Version By THOMAS F. BRADYSpecial to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 06 Sep 1947: 11.
  9. Europe Becomes Merely 'Location' to Hollywood Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 08 Feb 1948: D1.
  10. HISTORIC 'SET': Poor Benefit by Use of Roman Church in Film Rome. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 16 Jan 1949: X4
  11. OUT OF A TRANCE By ORSON WELLES. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 17 Apr 1949: X4.
  12. [ Variety March 1949
  13. Black Magic at the TCM Movie Database
  14. All Over Town T. M. P.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 09 Nov 1949: 37.
  15. Orson Welles Pulls Mass Hypnosis Act on Us All Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 19 Aug 1949: B5.

External links

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