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Magic Bow, The (1946)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment

Main image of Magic Bow, The (1946)
35mm. black and white, 106 mins
DirectorBernard Knowles
ProducerR.J. Minney
Production CompanyGainsborough Pictures
ScreenplayRoland Pertwee
PhotographyJack Cox

Cast: Stewart Granger (Nicolo Paganini); Phyllis Calvert (Jeanne De Vermomd); Jean Kent (Bianchi); Dennis Price (Paul De La Rochelle); Cecil Parker (Luigi Germi)

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The life of the great Italian violinist Paganini, which involves gambling, duels, Papal audiences and a tempestuous on-off romance with a French aristocrat, on top of the music itself.

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Curiously enough, this biopic of the Italian violinist Niccolò Paganini almost totally ignores the most famous legend about him - the claim that he sold his soul to the devil is referred to only in passing by a member of the audience at one of his concerts, and Stewart Granger's boyish incarnation bears little resemblance to the cadaverous, doom-haunted Paganini of painting and caricature.

The music itself is also given surprisingly short shrift, with too-brief excerpts being constantly interrupted by both on-screen activity and the demands of the plot (this was a common complaint - the Evening News even headed its review "Interruptions on a Theme of Paganini") - so the end result is aimed far more at fans of Stewart Granger and Gainsborough costume melodrama than to anyone seriously interested in Paganini's own work.

On this score it's not unentertaining, with Granger and Phyllis Calvert more or less reprising earlier Gainsborough characterisations, and given strong support from Cecil Parker as the lawyer-turned-manager Germi and Dennis Price as the supercilious Paul de la Rochelle.

The production values, too, are commendably lavish given that it was made against a backdrop of postwar austerity. The plot and much of the dialogue are, of course, ludicrous (Calvert: "I want the memories of you, my darling, to be filled with the magic of your music"), but that's par for the melodramatic course - the fact that real people and historical events provide the source material rather than romantic novels counts for little when continuing to exploit a successful formula.

Although Granger took violin lessons, he was unable to achieve the level of dexterity required to impersonate someone like Paganini convincingly. So instead, for close-ups of him playing, an assistant director held the violin under Granger's chin, and, with the actor's hands behind his back, one professional violinist supplied the fingering while another bowed - the sound itself being produced by Yehudi Menuhin, Britain's own twentieth-century Paganini (at least in terms of musicianship!). Not too surprisingly, Menuhin got the lion's share of the praise for the end result, though the visual sleight of hand is remarkably effective.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. Jail break (3:56)
2. Arpeggio Variations (2:22)
3. The Emperor's edict (3:34)
4. The duel (2:04)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Caravan (1946)
Fanny By Gaslight (1944)
Man in Grey, The (1943)
Calvert, Phyllis (1915-2002)
Cox, Jack (1890-1960)
Edwards, Henry (1883-1952)
Granger, Stewart (1913-1993)
Parker, Cecil (1897-1971)
Price, Dennis (1915-1973)
Roome, Alfred (1908-1997)
Gainsborough Melodrama