Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5
USA/Italy, 1949. Edward Small Productions. Screenplay by Charles Bennett, additional scenes and dialogue by Richard Schayer, based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas pere. Cinematography by Ubaldo Arata, Anchise Brizzi. Produced by Gregory Ratoff. Music by Paul Sawtell. Production Design by Jean d’Eaubonne, Ottavio Scotti. Costume Design by Georges Annenkov, Vittorio Nino Novarese. Film Editing by Fred R. Feitshans Jr., James C. McKay.
After witnessing his parents being hanged without cause by a snotty French aristocrat, a gypsy grows up to become a carnival fakir (played by Orson Welles) before an encounter with Dr. Mesmer clues him into a particular power he has over weak minds, using his piercing glare and suggestive manner. Going by the name Cagliastro, he uses his abilities to his economic advantage while hunting down the the man who killed his parents, intent on getting revenge.
The abilities possessed by the real life charlatan upon whom this story is based were basically a keen understanding of the power of suggestion, little more than one of his carnival tricks, but this sincere film treats him like he has actual magical powers, having him telepathically communicate with his victims and put people into deep, somnambulistic trances as the ridiculous plot has him involved in a palace intrigue that actually starts the French Revolution.
Nancy Guild is wonderful as a beautiful woman who is a dead ringer for Marie Antoinette (also played by Guild), capturing Cagliastro’s heart and ruining his relationship with his devoted sidekick Valentina Cortese.
There’s a lot of effort put into something that is shamelessly unintelligent, but it is gorgeously costumed and photographed, and it’s easy to see why Welles later stated it was the best time he ever had making a film.