The Magician

Season 1 Episode 21

The Illusion of the Evil Spikes

Aired Tuesday 9:00 PM Apr 15, 1974 on NBC

Episode Fan Reviews (1)

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out of 10
11 votes
  • Lots of content, good magic, laugh lines and ambitious climax put this one near the top.

    Plot synopsis: Tony lands a juicy gig on a movie when the incumbent is killed in "The spikes of death." Can he outwit the saboteurs and save the movie and his long time father-figure friend's movie studio?

    Larry-view: This one features three or more good magical sequences. There is the evil spikes, a sword suspension, and then the big safe escape. I really like that sword suspension. I haven't seen that illusion done much at all over the decades. I've never seen it done with the rotation except for this episode. It makes it an obviously mechanical apparatus and clues the audience in to how it works, but it's nice. I also like the evil spikes. That surprised me when Tony makes his appearance, even to this day.

    Bill Bixby directs this one. Other than the bungled magic of the final scene I didn't notice him, good nor bad. I guess that's good.

    The girl is played by the actress that played in "Play Misty for me" with Clint Eastwood. DON'T DO IT TONY!!!

    This one features some laugh lines...I really like that. Just a few jokes add so much sparkle to the script. In this case we get a charming 20 seconds where Tony's hitting on the girl and she's rebuffing him with funny comebacks. Unfortunately, when she mentions his "etchings," she must be referring back to some earlier dialog in the script that got cut and we never got to see it. That's too bad but the line still works. There are a few other lines in the show that also refer to events we never see.

    The tepid romance elements in this one worked for me, I like how the girl intelligently rebuffed Tony's early advances, but then succumbed to them in the end. Not much romantic content there, but it worked. Tony is a lousy private detective. He parks SPIRIT right in front of the restaurant while covertly filming the meetings. Yeah sure, just drive a loud, flashy car with a customized license plate and park it in plain view.

    Huge plot hole: The bad guys' plan to kill Tony, as shown, was simply to not raise the safe on time. Well that's silly, the trick was for Tony to escape from the safe, and since they did nothing to interfere with that, there's nothing to keep Tony from simply swimming to the surface even if they don't raise the safe, in fact, that's the way the trick was designed to work and nothing we saw from the bad guys would have prevented that. So there's a hole. The back story of Tony's relationship with the studio head didn't work for me. There was some horror value there to think that an old guy could do that to a long time trusting friend, but other than that... It was too quick and easy for him to turn against Tony, and he didn't display any remorse during the deed, which he would have. The final repentance was really lame; I didn't see any point to that other than giving the actor a chance to stretch. The writing failed to bring the old guy to life: I neither loathed him nor liked him, nor did he teeter on the balance of a likeable guy that had some fatal flaw that made him tragic. Plus in order for me to believe that he would turn on Tony, he needed to have something that was forcing him to do what he did, but there was nothing presented.

    Another bungled magic trick!!! With the big escape sequence being extensively edited you don't get the feeling that you're watching a live performance and so the whole thing falls flat. The empty safe, Tony's disappearance, and his subsequent reappearance. The close up of Tony's reappearance robs that event of its impact. This should have been filmed with the least amount of cuts possible in order to preserve the effect of a live, undoctored performance. The crane should have been within the wide camera shot so we could get an idea of the distance involved in Tony's surprise appearance. They could have done the whole thing with just one or two cuts. They could have used a distant camera that allows a very wide shot but allow it to pan and zoom in to capture things as needed. Also they could have used split screen to allow a single shot to run uninterrupted but still allow for close-ups. They only really needed the one cut to allow Bill Bixby to exit the safe before it was put into the water.

    They give us a giant exposure in this episode. That seems to be part of Wilson's style. I just got his "Magic Circus" DVD (his show in the 1970s) last night and he does an exposure there. In another episode I had said that the exposure seemed out of character with Wilson's orthodox magic styling, but I guess it's not. In this case they play out a large scale escape production for us, and then play us back the tape and explain how it all works. In the process of that they expose several techniques of misdirection and metamorphosis style changing places. Note however that some of what is presented as an exposure actually isn't. For instance the evil spikes illusion is not going to be done with a lock pick...that would be silly. If you could hide a lock pick in the curtain, as shown, you could just as well hide the handcuff key. No matter how good you are, it would take more than 20 seconds to pick four handcuffs, especially when you have to do the first one with a single shackled hand. Also, I don't think the safe escape could be done the way shown here. All said, the exposure of the techniques used in the big escape sequence are quite interesting.

    I've got an opinion on the hotly debated subject of camera edits used in televised magic. I don't like it. Any idiot can devise any magical effect using camera edits. Part of the beauty of magic is the skill, cleverness, and gall that goes into pulling an effect off right under your nose. Also, I understand that magic is lying, but to sincerely state to the audience that "no camera tricks will be used" before the show and then to simply flatly go against that and use me that's lying and that's rude. On top of all of that, it's not impressive to watch an edited sequence, but it is impressive to watch a live one, so in additional to being rude, it's bad magic and bad TV. Just today I've lost a lot of respect for Mr. Wilson on this issue. While watching last night's Magic Circus, the announcer made this announcement: "And remember, as with all of Mark Wilson's magical effects, what you see at home will be exactly what our live studio audience sees. No trick photography will be used of any kind." And then he flatly makes that statement into a lie by extensively editing the ending credits where he magically produces the credits on magically changing cards. There is an edit almost every trick. To me, that's simply lying to the audience. When he tells me that there will be no camera tricks, he's giving me his word that he will give me a certain high quality of performance. When he goes back on that, my trust in him and his word of quality is disappointed.

    In spite of a lot of talking head action, with the aid of a pointing stick and video screen even, I didn't get the whole plot. Why did the old guy need the picture to fail? How was it going to benefit him? Dominic gets a good part and finally learns how a trick works. I like the way he delivers the line "I don't know how to tell you, Tony." and the smug, satisfied way he looks into the camera after pulling off the climax. That was a fitting end to this series. The character of Dominic and the actor made an important contribution to this show.

    The owl gets the final portrait shot of the series...that's great. It's too bad they didn't portrait him in the opening of the pilot...that would have been poetry to bookend the series like that.

    So, I'll give this one a 9, that's relative only to other "The magician" episodes. It's got a lot of content; there is some good magic, jokes, romance, and a big ambitious climax.