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Black Magic

Black Magic(1949)

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Writer Alexandre Dumas, Sr., obsessed by the subject of his new book about Cagliostro, the infamous 18th century sorcerer, recounts the following story to his son, Dumas, Jr.: Cagliostro, who began his life as Joseph Balsamo, was the son of gypsies. When his mother, gifted with clairvoyance, is accused along with his father of forging an alliance with the devil, they are sentenced to hang by Count DeMontagne, who also orders the boy to be whipped and his eyes put out after watching his parents' execution. Just as the guards are about to sear Joseph's eyes with a hot poker, a band of gypsies led by Gitano comes to his rescue, after which Joseph vows revenge on DeMontagne. Years later in Vienna, Joseph, now known as the Great Balsamo, presides over a show of fakery and black magic at the gypsy carnival. At the carnival, Joseph peddles bottles filled with the "elixir of life," and when a customer goes into convulsions after drinking a bottle mistakenly filled with lamp fluid, Joseph hypnotizes her into believing that she has no pain. Later, Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer, a member of the medical faculty at the University of Vienna, interviews the woman and discovers that Joseph does indeed possess some power over the mind. Dr. Mesmer then visits Joseph and Gitano, who have been arrested, and arranges for their release in hopes that Joseph can help him achieve scientific recognition for his discovery of the curative properties of hypnotism. After Joseph cures one of Mesmer's wealthy patients of palsy, the doctor suggests that he and Joseph become partners to aid humanity, but instead, Joseph decides to employ his gifts in the accumulation of wealth and power. Joseph then informs Gitano and Zoraida, his lover, that he is changing his name to Cagliostro, the name of the swiftest comet in the night sky. "Count" Cagliostro sweeps through Europe, and, playing on hysterical faith and emotional instability, uses his hypnotic powers to sell himself as an all-powerful healer. Compelled by memories of his youth, Cagliostro returns to France and once again encounters DeMontagne when the count summons him to examine Lorenza, a beautiful young woman suffering from shock. Under hypnosis, Lorenza, who bears a striking resemblance to Princess Marie Antoinette, recounts that while in Strasbourg, she was courted by Gilbert, a dashing young officer in the royal guards. Continuing in a trance, Lorenza recalls being snatched from her lover's arms. Unknown to Lorenza, her abduction was arranged by DeMontagne, who intends to use her in a plot against the princess, Now aware that DeMontagne is conspiring to use Lorenza to reach new heights of power, Cagliostro tells the count that she must remain under his care or die and insists upon becoming partners with him. As Cagliostro accompanies Lorenza to Paris, Gilbert searches in vain for his lost love. Although he is denounced as a charlatan by legitimate doctors, Cagliostro becomes the rage in Paris. There, Zoraida becomes insanely jealous of Lorenza, who has fallen completely under Calgiostro's power. One night, DeMontagne brings his co-conspirator, Mme. Du Barry, the mistress of King Louis XV, to see Lorenza. Du Barry is amazed by Lorenza's likeness to Marie Antoinette, whom she is scheming to discredit. Plotting to drive Marie into exile, Du Barry plans to have Lorenza impersonate the princess and buy an exorbitant diamond necklace from the jeweler Boehmer, knowing that such flagrant extravagance will inflame the starving masses of Paris and thus force the king into banishing Marie Antoinette to avoid bloodshed. Gilbert, meanwhile, has traced Lorenza to Cagliostro's house and carries her away to a safe refuge. Upon discovering that Lorenza has fled with Gilbert, Cagliostro tracks her down and marries the still hypnotized young woman to insure that Gilbert will never have her. Before Du Barry can carry out her plot, King Louis XV dies unexpectedly. Now, as Queen of France, Marie Antoinette banishes Du Barry from Paris and orders Cagliostro to leave the country within a week. Afterward, DeMontagne comes to Cagliostro's house to claim Lorenza, and Cagliostro convinces him that Lorenza has committed suicide by drinking poison. After witnessing Lorenza's internment in a garden grave, DeMontagne leaves and when Cagliostro revives Lorenza from her deep hypnotic state, she calls out for Gilbert. Driven by jealousy and revenge, Cagliostro conceives of a plot to rock the throne of France. After sending DeMontagne a letter, supposedly from Marie Antoinette, asking him to meet her, Cagliostro hypnotizes Lorenza into impersonating the queen. At their rendezvous, Lorenza, posing as Marie Antoinette, tells DeMontagne that she is in love with him and asks him to buy her the diamond necklace as proof of her love and bring it to her apartment the following midnight. Cagliostro then spreads word throughout the slums that DeMontagne has plundered public funds to buy a necklace for the queen, thus inciting the mob to riot. Cagliostro then insures Gilbert's entrapment by sending him to interrupt the rendezvous. When Gilbert arrives at the palace to demand that DeMontagne return the necklace, the queen orders them both arrested, along with Cagliostro. In prison, Cagliostro hypnotizes DeMontagne, reminds him of his parents' execution and then orders him to hang himself. Still angry over being spurned by her lover, Zoraida brings Lorenza to Marie Antoinette and reveals Cagliostro's plot. Lorenza agrees to testify against Cagliostro, but at the trial, Cagliostro hypnotizes her into stating that she knows nothing. Then, challenging the queen's motives, Cagliostro accuses Marie Antoinette of conducting an inquisition, thus rallying public support behind him. Maddened by power, Cagliostro hypnotizes Gilbert into testifying against the queen just as Mesmer bursts into the chambers and uses the necklace to hypnotize Cagliostro into confessing. Awakening from his trance, Cagliostro realizes that he has lost all. When Gitano passes him a gun, Cagliostro shoots Mesmer and escapes with the hypnotized Lorenza. Gilbert pursues them up a turret of the building, and as the crowd gapes from below, pulls his sword and fatally wounds Cagliostro, sending him plunging to his death. Freed from Cagliostro's evil spell, Lorenza rushes into Gilbert's arms.