Anthony Hopkins did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Bafta and a Golden Globe, for portraying Charles "Corky" Withers and his dummy Fats in Magic.
Anthony Hopkins is best known for portraying rather grand roles such as presidents, princes, kings, and of course a cannibalistic psychopath. The first act of this performance though is a very different type of character for Hopkins as Corky seems to be a fairly average Joe just trying to make it as an entertainer. It is rather strange to see Hopkins such a down to earth role like he is at the beginning, but Hopkins probably gives one of his natural performances in these early scenes. Hopkins is just really good in conveying just the basic desire for success and the frustrations in Corky with his failure he suffers just as the films opens.
There still does not seem to be too much trouble even when observing the stage performance of Corky. Hopkins plays Corky as a bit of a charmless sad sack on the stage as he tries his card tricks. This is the right approach though as Hopkins correctly makes the dummy Fats the star of the show with the loud boisterous mouth he gives the dummy. In the act Hopkins makes Corky the one who is dominated by the dummy which certainly plays off into where Corky ends up going as the film continues on. Hopkins though makes the act between Corky and Fats a convincing comedian routine of sorts with Fats being the loud mouth cracking jokes while Corky is the straight man who performs all the tricks.
Everything still seems to be decent enough for Corky even though he is a little too adamant about his refusal to take a medical exam before performing a pilot. Corky though instead seeks out, in the Catskills, his old high school crush Peggy (Ann-Margret). Hopkins does something very different in his scenes with Ann-Margret and that is he is actually incredibly charming as he tries to woo her. In fact Hopkins is so warm and affection in this scene that it actually made me wish the film did not take the very dark turn it takes soon afterwards. Hopkins drifts in what seems more akin to Hannibal Lecter type of material though as Corky seems to talk to Fats all the time, even when he is not doing his act.
Hopkins's performance though is not at all like his later psychopathic work as Corky is someone who doesn't want to be a psychopath but can't help it. Hopkins's best scene in the film comes when his agent (Burgess Meredith) tests him by asking Corky not to do Fats voice for just five minutes. Hopkins is terrific in this scene as he internalizes the madness of Corky into a terrible pressure that he can't help but feel. The idea that a man simply can't help but plays with his dummy might seem farfetched. Hopkins in this scene absolutely delivers on the idea in this scene showing that Fats is an irresistible urge that he just has to do whether he likes or not. Although whether Fats is supernatural is up to debate, Hopkins effectively humanizes the problem.
After that scene though Corky's insanity gets out of control. Hopkins, although he is portraying a murderer with a split personality, does not turn this into a villainous performance. Rather the last act of Hopkins's work is a big mess, although a big mess in the right way. The last act is basically Corky fighting with himself or with Fats, if Fats really is alive, to attempt to retain control while everything gets out of hand. Hopkins is good in these scenes, but I would be lying if I did not think these are actually the least interesting scenes of his performance. More then anything these are scenes after scenes of explosive emotions of either Corky getting worse or trying to come back to sanity all the while Fats continues as the controller.
The final scenes of the film are a solid showcase for Hopkins as portrays the unbridled craziness in Corky as he keeps going back fourth toward the deep end until the point where he ends it all suddenly. Hopkins does end on a high note as Corky shares some final words with Fats. Hopkins plays the last scene in an oddly tender fashion where Corky and Fats depart in the only way they possibly could. This is a very good performance by Anthony Hopkins that is very different from his later performances. It is another performance from this year though that I feel comes close to greatness but does not quite reach it as I still could not help but think how the original choice, Gene Wilder, would have been in the role.