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Magic Fire

Magic Fire(1956)

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The following statement appears after the opening credits: "This picture was produced at actual historical locations by the Republic Studio Organization." After the opening credits, a scrolling introduction reads as follows: "In the middle of the Nineteenth Century when the social structure of Europe was about to be reshaped, the world of music was shaken by one man Richard Wagner." The introduction then states that Wagner was born in Leipzig, Germany in 1813, the ninth child of a poor family, and that, in 1834, the Magdeburg Stage and Opera Company needed a conductor. Voice-over narration by Alan Badel as "Richard Wagner" is heard intermittently throughout the film. Cities depicted in the film are introduced with eighteenth-century drawings. Although copyright records list the film's length as 112 minutes, the print viewed was approximately 94-95 minutes, which corresponds to the running time listed in reviews. Although the Motion Picture Almanac incorrectly reports the release date as March 29, 1956 and a May 5, 1956 Motion Picture Herald Prod Digest noted that the film was a May release, an April 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that it opened nationally on 27 April 1956.
       Much of what is depicted in the film is based on historical fact. As quoted in the Hollywood Reporter review, biographer Bertita Harding, on whose book the film is based, wrote that Wagner (1813-1883) was "one of the most selfish, inconsiderate, ruthless and altogether impossible people who ever lived." His marriages to Minna Planer and Cosima von Buelow; his affair with Mathilde Wesendonk; and his relationships with Bavarian King Louis (Ludwig) II, Franz Liszt and Giacomo Meyerbeer are well-documented. His historically documented conceit, debts, betrayals, political involvements and efforts to create a festival and opera house to showcase his works have become legendary in the history of music.
       In the presentation of the life of the composer, many events of Wagner's life have been omitted from the film. For example, the film only dwells on his operatic works, although he also wrote many other vocal and instrumental pieces. More related to the theme of the film are numerous adulterous affairs Wagner had that were not mentioned in the story and his three children by Cosima, one of whom Hans von Buelow claimed as his own to prevent scandal. Also avoided were Wagner's later-life theories about "racial purity" and the posthumous endorsement of his music by Adolph Hitler. The latter has discouraged many modern musicians and audience members from performing and listening to his work, despite the numerous contributions he made to the development of traditional Western music. Regarding the recreation of Wagner's life on film, the Los Angeles Times review recognized that "any further delving into the reality of the composer's life might have made him unsympathetic," and the review applauded the filmmakers for taking the "best course in dealing with the life of a man which was as utterly strange as his accomplishments were endlessly triumphant."
       According to Hollywood Reporter production charts, the film was shot in widescreen in Munich. October and November 1954 Hollywood Reporter news items specify Weisbaden, Bayreuth, Schweitengen and the Bavaria Film Studios in Geiselgasteig as shooting locations, and a November Hollywood Reporter news item added that thirty-two locations within Germany were used for filming. According to a July 1954 Los Angeles Times news item, producer-director William Dieterle went with Harding to Bayreuth, where the Wagner festival was held, to augment the screen story based on her book. Although an August 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Rhonda Fleming was cast in the film, she was later replaced by Valentina Cortese. Magic Fire marked the American film debut of actor Erik Schumann who was billed onscreen as Eric Schumann.
       Magic Fire marked the final film of composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957), who adapted Wagner's music for the film. Nominated four times for an Academy Award for Best Original Score, he received two: one for the 1936 Warner Bros. production Anthony Adverse, which was directed by Mervin LeRoy and starred Fredric March, and the second for the 1938 Warner Bros. The Adventures of Robin Hood, directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Errol Flynn (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40). Korngold's style has been described by music scholars as "particularly" Wagnerian and he was one of the principal composers in the 1930s to develop film music.