It’s been so long since I read Maugham’s novel, but I recall enjoying it — far more than Aleister Crowley did, who accused the author of plagiarism as that was easier than accusing him of satire. Anyway, then he’d have had to go after M. R. James, John Buchan, Dennis Wheatley and Dion Fortune as well and for the busy occultist that’s a lot of paperwork. So, the film:
Our story begins in Paris where promising young sculptor Margaret is nearly killed by her work-in-progress, a hugs statue of Pan.
I’m sure there’s meant to be a lesson for your women pursing art in the Roaring Twenties, but it looks like a great life, art-accidents aside. Fortunately, her uncle persuades a fab young surgeon to practise his skills upon her saving her life and falling for her at the same time. Well, almost the same time. There’s a strange callousness in the film, for example when the lovers are spooning in the Tuileries and she spots a girl on crutches and sighs, ‘That could have been me!’ Hey, great surgeon, why not operate on that poor child?
Margaret is irresistible; not only does the surgeon fall for her without anaesthesia, but so does creepy intense occultist Oliver Haddo, who incidentally just found the secret formula for making a homunculus in the Library of the Arsenal (not that Arsenal).
Two guesses what it needs? Blood of a virgin? You betcha. Time to get the hypnotism game on.
What better place to show off his power than at the very noir carnival?
Isn’t it odd that this 1926 film effortlessly has more background diversity than any modern Hollywood movie? Gender, race, age, ability — though yes, it has not only vintage ableism and some exotica appropriation (mostly orientalism):
Just before Margaret would be made safe by marrying the doc, Haddo shows up to give her visions of Pan-themed orgies and what not with a combination of herbs and hypnotism.
Surely there’s a tutting here: gals who sculpt fauns get into trouble:
She’s got some great outfits: though I suspect this is monkey fur (eep) maybe it’s really vegan…
When she disappears just before the wedding with a note saying she married the Magician instead, doc and uncle have to hunt her down. The trail leads to Monte Carlo where news of a young woman with extraordinary luck gives them a clue.
She’s definitely rocking the Monte look now.
But once he’s got enough money raised for the necessary occult supplies, off they go to the secret tower laboratory, so suggestive of the Frankenstein lair a few years later.
Haddo is cookin’.
Margaret is helpless and about to have her heart removed.
Seriously cooking now.
Heart stabbing knife set from Ginsu.
Check the book one last time…
[SPOILERS] And then there’s the big fight and rescue. It’s 1926. You knew that was coming. Maugham lets her die but her ghost provides the necessary evidence.
Uncle wants to make sure that no one else can perform this ritual.
In fact, let’s destroy all the evidence!
I’m hoping to catch up on some movie watching. I feel as if I have seen nothing lately. Bring me some popcorn.