Wednesday, January 07, 2009


In 16th century France, a young gypsy boy named Joseph sees his mother brutally executed for having the power of "second sight': he bites the hand of the man responsible, Montagne (Stephen Bekassy), leaving a scar, and as he is being tortured, he is rescued by gypsies. Years later, Joseph (Orson Welles) discovers, with some help from the famous Dr. Mesmer, that he has a powerful talent for hypnosis. He goes on the road as Count Cagliostro, becomes famous as a mystical healer, and soon runs into Montagne, who, not recognizing him, asks for his help in a complicated plot to bring down Marie Antoinette involving Lorenza (Nancy Guild), a woman who is her double. He agrees to help, but once they reach the royal court, the plots multiply and it is soon each man and woman out for his or her own interests. Though this film is thick with the trappings of French history (Cagliostro was real, and he was arrested for being involved in the infamous affair of the necklace that was instrumental in bringing down Marie Antoinette), it is apparently mostly fiction, based on a story by Alexandre Dumas (who, in the movie's framing device, is telling the entire narrative to his son, played by Raymond Burr). It's a bit slow moving but it's enjoyable to watch the tricky, complex plots play out, and the sets (many of which look like actual on-location spots) are magnificent. Welles is excellent as always, and is rumored to have co-directed with credited director Gregory Ratoff. The rest of the acting is inconsistent; Guild is just OK as the French queen but terrible as Lorenza, and is especially bad when she's acting with Welles; Frank Latimore, as her gallant lover, is rather wooden. The only other standout is Akim Tamiroff as Cagliostro's loyal associate who has pangs of conscience near the climax when he's convinced that his boss has gone off the deep end. Not screened very often, but worth catching. [TCM]

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