The Magic Face


1h 28m 1951

Film Details

Release Date
Sep 1951
Premiere Information
New York opening: 29 Sep 1951
Production Company
Columbia Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
Columbia Pictures Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Vienna,Austria

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 28m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
10 reels

Synopsis

In the aftermath of the second World War, in the rubble of Berlin, journalist William L. Shirer details Germany's stunning rise and near domination of the world, before the Third Reich's leader, Adolf Hitler, began making inexplicable and contradictory decisions which led directly the nation's collapse. Shirer reveals a strange tale he was told by a mysterious woman five years after the fall of the Reich: In 1938 in Vienna, three days after the Nazis' entry into Austria, impersonator Janus the Great and his wife Vera perform their popular stage act. That evening, Janus's performance is momentarily halted by the arrival of Adolf Hitler and his entourage, and Vera is mesmerized by the Führer. After the show she receives a personal invitation to dinner from Hitler, which she accepts. When Janus refuses his permission, Vera ignores him. Janus follows his wife and Hitler to a nightclub, but is forcibly ejected by SS guards. When the actor resists, he is arrested and taken to jail and severely beaten. Janus watches in horror as the man in the neighboring cell, Hans Harbach, is brutally and continually tortured by Major Weinrich for information. Later, Harbach tells Janus the rumor that Vera has taken up with Hitler, but Janus refuses to believe him. When Harbach's wife Karla is arrested and beaten in front of him, Harbach breaks down and commits suicide as Janus watches. Shocked and outraged, Janus vows to do everything in his power to destroy Hitler and the Nazis. Janus languishes in jail, but learns of the 1939 German invasion of Poland and the declaration of war by the Allies. One evening, a drunken SS officer, Warden, insists that Janus entertain him and several officers. Janus imitates British Prime Minister Chamberlain, then boldly dresses up as Warden, which delights the drunken officers. Still disguised as Warden, Janus then walks out of the prison. Later, Janus calls Warden, threatening to reveal how he escaped, and demands the German declare that Janus was killed while resisting arrest. In order to provide a realistic scenario, Warden cold-bloodedly kills his aide to have a body to bury. Janus then returns to his stage assistant, Hans. As Germany invades the Low Countries, Janus has Hans teach him valet etiquette. In disguise, the actor assumes the name Karl Vogel and befriends Hitler's valet, Heinrich Wagner. As "Karl," Janus works his way into Hitler's inner circle and has ample opportunity to observe the Führer's physical mannerisms. After the fall of France, Wagner reveals that he longs to visit America and Janus volunteers to fill in. Janus continues studying Hitler as he takes up duties as his valet. One day Janus is startled to run into Vera, who now lives with Hitler. He avoids her gaze and she does not recognize him, although Major Weinrich finds him familiar. As rumors of an impending invasion of Britain spread, Janus poisons Hitler and assumes his identity. He claims Hitler's body is Janus the Great's, implicates Janus in an assassination attempt, and accuses Warden of lying about Janus' death. When the body in Janus' grave is identified as Warden's aide, Warden is executed. With his secret now safe, Janus, as Hitler, wreaks havoc on all war plans in progress. He repeatedly postpones and finally cancels the invasion of Britain, attacks Russia and eventually declares war on America. The German high command, in mounting frustration over his behavior, plots his assassination, which goes awry, resulting in their own executions. Weinrich returns from a long period in Italy and grows suspicious of "Hitler," but when he confronts Janus, Hitler's private guard shoots him, assuming it is another attempt on the Führer's life. As Germany collapses, Berlin is besieged by the Allies and Hitler's bunker is gradually abandoned. Only Vera remains, distressed at Hitler's cool treatment of her, but determined to remain with him. As bombs rain down outside, Janus removes his disguise and reveals himself to Vera. She responds hysterically and flees outside into the bombardment, followed by Janus. Back in the present, Shirer observes that as Hitler's body was never found, the story cannot be confirmed or denied.

Film Details

Release Date
Sep 1951
Premiere Information
New York opening: 29 Sep 1951
Production Company
Columbia Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
Columbia Pictures Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Vienna,Austria

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 28m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
10 reels

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The narrator of the film, William L. Shirer (1904-1993), was an American reporter, foreign correspondent and writer. In the late 1930s, Shirer was hired by CBS European bureau director Edward R. Murrow and, along with several other radio journalists, began the first live "round robin" news program featuring simultaneous broadcasts from major European capitals. Shirer covered the collapse of Austria in 1938 and later reported the beginning of World War II from Berlin, until he was expelled. Shirer went on to write one of the first major best-sellers about the war, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.
       A January 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that the screenplay by producer Mort Briskin was based on a story by Shirer. However, according to a May 1950 Daily Variety news item, the film was based on a 1937 novel by co-producer Robert Smith. Onscreen credits list only Briskin and Smith as authors. The Daily Variety news item indicated that producer Briskin met with French director René Clair as a possible director and that Alexander Knox was set for the starring role. Neither Clair nor Knox participated in the final film.
       Hollywood Reporter and Variety news items indicate that Irving Reis was scheduled to direct The Magic Face on location in Vienna, but that two days before commencement of production he fled Austria, due to concern for his pregnant wife and other personal matters. The file on The Magic Face in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library indicates that several members of the cast worked in the Vienna State Theatre. The film was shot entirely on location in Vienna. Newsreel and documentary footage of Europe during World War II was interspersed throughout The Magic Face, accompanied by commentary by Shirer. The dialogue continuity contained in the copyright file reveals that "Vera Janus" was originally named "Eva," probably after Adolf Hitler's longtime mistress, Eva Braun.
       In late May 1951, Tuttle flew from Vienna to Washington, D.C. to testify voluntarily before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Tuttle acknowledged previous ties to the Communist party and named thirty names. A Hollywood Reporter news item on May 25, 1951 reveals that producer Mort Briskin had learned of Tuttle's Communist ties from earlier testimony and had flown to Vienna to advise the director that because of this revelation, Tuttle would be removed as director from two Columbia productions for which he was scheduled. Further, Briskin indicated that Columbia had requested that it be allowed to delete Tuttle's name from the screen credits on The Magic Face. Tuttle informed the studio through his agent that he would comply if the studio agreed to arbitrate the question through the Screen Directors Guild. If the Guild decided that his name would hurt the sale of the production and box office receipts, he would consent to having his credit removed. Tuttle also requested his $5,000 release fee be paid him regardless of the decision and requested that if the Guild subsequently decided that his name would not hurt the sale of the film, Columbia would publicly announce he was the film's director. When Tuttle did not receive a response from Columbia after three weeks, he informed the studio and the Guild that he was not granting permission for the studio to remove his name from the screen credits of The Magic Face. The film was released with the directing credit intact. Tuttle was not blacklisted, but his career went into sharp decline after The Magic Face.