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The Wagner bio film: Magic Fire

Written By The Wagnerian on Friday 5 September 2014 | 7:29:00 pm

UPDATE: Sadly, it seems that this has now been deleted from Youtube. However, there is some good news. A number of kind readers have pointed out that the film is available on DVD. If only on Amazon in Germany. This version (available in Region 2) has two soundtracks - one in German and one in English. It can be ordered directly from Amazon Germany by using the following link . Alternatively, it can be found on Amazon UK by following this link

There have been a few, often greatly fictionalised, films claiming to present Wagner's life. One oft less mentioned is Republic Pictures not un-entertaining 1955 "Magic Fire" Sadly, a box office failure, from a studio that closed down only a few years later, it has proven nearly impossible to see - especially as far as we are aware any video release has been long deleted. However, due to that wondrous treasure trove known as youtube, it has now reappeared. One assumes, like a few of Republic films from this time, it is in the public domain? Anyway, till some bright spark releases it on DVD here is Peter Cushing as Otto Wesendonk and Wagner's music arranged by Korngold - who also appears as Hans Richter

Directed by William Dieterle, the film made extensive use of Wagner's actual music, which was arranged by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Dieterle worked with Korngold on several Warner Bros. films, including A Midsummer Night's Dream and Juarez. It was one of the final films Republic made in the two-strip color process known as Trucolor.

Although many details about Wagner's life were accurately portrayed, the film often distorted some facts, apparently for dramatic purposes. One high point was the accurate depiction of the riot at the Paris Opera House for the premiere of the revised version of Tannhäuser. The film depicted King Ludwig II's patronage of Wagner, without going into much detail about the king's controversial personality.

The film used a very large cast, opulent sets, and lavish costumes. Since Republic was known primarily for westerns and adventure serials, Magic Fire was one of the rare "prestige" films to be produced by studio chief Herbert Yates. Nevertheless, critical response was mixed and box office receipts in the U.S. were disappointing.


Alan Badel ... Richard Wagner
Yvonne De Carlo ... Minna Planer
Carlos Thompson ... Franz Liszt
Rita Gam... Cosima Liszt
Valentina Cortese ... Mathilde Wesendonck
Peter Cushing ... Otto Wesendonck
Frederick Valk ... Minister von Moll
Gerhard Riedmann ... King Ludwig II
Erik Schumann ... Hans von Bülow
Robert Freitag ... August Roeckel
Heinz Klingenberg ... King of Saxonia
Charles Régnier ... Giacomo Meyerbeer
Kurt Großkurth ... Magdeburg Theatre Manager (as Kurt Grosskurth)
Fritz Rasp ... Pfistermeister
Hans Quest ... Robert Hubner
Jan Hendriks ... Mikhail Bakunin
Erich Wolfgang Korngold ... Hans Richter (uncredited)


Directed by William Dieterle
Writing credits: David T. Chantler, screenplay; Ewald André Dupont, screenplay (as E. A. Dupont);
Bertita Harding, screenplay; based on the novel Magic Fire: The Story of Wagner's Life and Music (1954)
Produced by William Dieterle
Original Music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Cinematography by Ernest Haller
Art Direction by Robert Herlth
Costume Design by Ursula Maes
Virgil Hart .... assistant director
Frank T. Dyke .... sound
Walter Rühland .... sound (as Walter Ruehland)
Léo L. Fuchs .... still photographer (uncredited)
Stanley E. Johnson .... supervising editor (as Stanley Johnson)
Tatjana Gsovsky .... choreographer
Rudolf Hartmann .... opera stager (as Professor Rudolf Hartmann)
Erich Wolfgang Korngold .... music supervisor