Based on the Isaac Bashevis Singer book The Magician of Lublin, this Menahem Golan-directed movie was co-written by Golan, Irving S. White and Sheldon Patinkin, who was a major force in Chicago theater, serving as a chair of the Theater Department of Columbia College Chicago, artistic director of the Getz Theater of Columbia College, artistic consultant of The Second City and of Steppenwolf Theatre and co-director of the Steppenwolf Theatre Summer Ensemble Workshops.
Yasha Mazur (Alan Arkin) is a con man and womanizer, but he’s also a stage magician of some fame. While he’s married to Esther (Linda Bernstein), but he never sees her. Instead, his life is on the road and filled with so many relationships with women, such as Zeftel (Valerie Perrine), his mentally deranged assistant Magda (Maia Danziger), the widow Emilia (Louise Fletcher) and her daughter Halina (Lisa Whelchel), a sick child who Yasa loves as if she were his own but will never be able to provide for.
Oh man — this all gets messy. Zeftel is leaving to work for a man who is really trying to sell her into human trafficking, so Yasha performs a smaller show and misses his big break and make enough money to be a success in Emilia’s eyes. Magda kills herself and as Yasha tries to burglarize a rich count, he has a vision of death. Also: Lou Jacobi, Murray from Amazon Women On the Moon, plays Yasha’s manager.
The magician comes home and lives in a tomb, giving advice to those who come to him. Emilia has become a rich kept woman for the rich man and begs for his forgiveness while Magda’s family — Shelley Winters is her mother; she also worked with Golan in Diamonds, Over the Brooklyn Bridge, Déjà Vu and The Delta Force — comes and attempts to kill Yasha, but he has escaped and fulfilled his dream of flying away.
Isaac Bashevis, who wrote the original book, also saw his stories Yentl and Enemies, A Love Story made into movies in the 80s. Also, predating Stranger Things, Golan used “The Magician,” a Kate Bush song that doesn’t appear on any albums, as the theme for his film.
This is a magic-realist story that would probably have been a great film if made by someone like Ken Russell or Alejandro Jodorowski. I love Menahem, but this is perhaps a bit out of his scope, although the does throw a big cast at this.