Magee, Patrick

Magee, Patrick
   Born in Northern Ireland, Patrick Magee became a successful character actor on the British and American stage and screen. The Irish playwright Samuel Beckett wrote Krapp’s Last Tape and some of his other plays with Magee in mind. One of Magee’s first sizeable parts was in the first commercial feature directed by Francis Ford Coppola, Dementia 13 (1963). It was a slasher picture produced by Roger Corman, known in Hollywood as the “King of the B’s” for his low-budget movies. Magee soon graduated to A pictures such as Bryan Forbes’s British thriller Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964). He got international attention playing the Marquis de Sade in both the London Old Vic and the New York Broadway productions of Marat/Sade; in the latter production, he won a Tony Award. He repeated his role in Peter Brook’s 1966 film version of the play. Magee’s most remembered screen appearances are in Marat/Sade and in the two STANLEY KUBRICK films in which he appeared, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and BARRY LYNDON.
   In A Clockwork Orange (1972), derived from the ANTHONY BURGESS novel, Magee plays a character that was in fact based on the novelist himself. Specifically, the novel was inspired by an incident in the British novelist Burgess’s own life. When he was stationed in Gibraltar during World War II, he received a letter from a friend of his wife, regretfully informing him that his wife Lynne had been brutally attacked late one night in England by four American G. I. ’s who had deserted from the U. S. Army. They sadistically beat her and robbed her; she was pregnant at the time, lost the baby as a result of soldiers’ mindless brutality, and remained ill, both physically and mentally, for some time after her horrible experience. In 1959, after teaching abroad for some years, Burgess returned to England and was appalled to observe the ugly and erratic behavior of the teenaged street gangs who called themselves Teddy Boys. He began to compose a novel entitled A Clockwork Orange (1962), a nightmarish fantasy of England in the not-too-distant future. In it he dramatized his wife’s traumatic experience 15 years before as a way of exorcising the dreadful memory of what had happened to her. In the novel, Mr. Alexander, a writer, is working on a social polemic entitled A Clockwork Orange. Alexander’s home is invaded by a young tough named Alex (MALCOLM MCDOWELL) and his gang of juvenile delinquents, who are wearing grotesque masks. They punch and kick him mercilessly, and he is then forced to watch while they gang-rape his wife. She eventually dies of the assault in the movie, though not in the novel.
   The film parallels the book, as Alex winds up in prison in the course of the film. He volunteers to undergo a brainwashing technique, in order to guarantee him an early release from jail. “The Ludovico treatment,” as this type of aversion therapy is known, makes his previous vicious behavior repugnant to him. After his release from prison, he happens upon a welcoming neon sign, “HOME,” which seems to beckon him to hospitality. As luck would have it, it is the home of Frank Alexander.
   The ensuing sequence is one of the most crucial episodes in the film. Alex is admitted by Julian, a nurse who looks after the invalid writer, who is permanently crippled as a result of the pummeling he endured from Alex and his hoodlums. As soon as he sees Frank Alexander in his wheelchair, Alex realizes with concealed horror that it is he who helped confine his host to that chair. But Alex banks on Frank’s not recognizing him, because of the mask that he wore the last time that they met.
   This scene is patently built around Patrick Magee’s portrayal of Frank Alexander. The writer does recognize Alex as the recipient of the Ludovico treatment, which he has read about in the newspapers, and, as a member of a radical left-wing group, he schemes to make political capital out of Alex’s experience:“Tortured in prison,” he says with maniacal glee. Alexander phones some of his fascist cohorts and explains how they will be able to use Alex to discredit the party in power at the next election: they will inveigh against the government’s use of debilitating brainwashing techniques in the name of law and order.
   “Before we know where we are,” he concludes,“we will have the full apparatus of totalitarianism. ” Then, without being aware of it,Alexander reveals his own totalitarian propensities:“The common people will sell liberty for a quieter life. That is why they must be led, driven, pushed!” Here we have another wheelchair-bound Dr. Strangelove seeking to control the destiny of his fellow men. (See DR. STRANGELOVE OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB. )
   As Alexander wheels himself away from the phone, he suddenly notices that Alex is humming “Singin’ in the Rain” while he lolls in the bathtub upstairs. An apoplectic look of shock distorts the writer’s features, because that is precisely the song that Alex sang while beating Alexander and raping his wife with the aid of his buddies.
   Having no misgivings about being recognized, Alex casually inquires about Mrs. Alexander over dinner. In a trembling voice her husband responds that she was raped by some thugs and later died in the course of a flu epidemic. “The doctors told me it was pneumonia, but I knew what it was. She was a victim of the Modern Age. ” The world of A Clockwork Orange has a basis in reality, in that it depicts an exaggerated future, in order to focus on tendencies that already exist in modern society—such as senseless violence and sexual indulgence. That is why the writer in the film, whose wife eventually dies as the result of a vicious attack by Alex and his gang, says that she was really a victim of the Modern Age. Alex is interrogated by two of Alexander’s fellow conspirators just before he passes out, having been drugged by Alexander’s dinner wine. He awakens to find himself locked in a bedroom by the husband of the woman he raped and killed. Alex escapes from his imprisonment by hurling himself out of the window. Kevin Jackson, in writing of A Clockwork Orange, states baldly that “Kubrick’s greatest crime against the art of acting is the performance he extorts from Patrick Magee as Mr. Alexander. ”This sort of acting, he opines, is referred to as chewing the scenery. MARIO FALSETTO describes Magee’s performance as exhibiting an exaggerated acting style in the sequence above. As the leftist Alexander recognizes Alex from the newspapers as the victim of the Ludovico technique, the actor “shakes and trembles. He blinks his eyes rapidly, bites his nails. ” But Falsetto comments that Magee’s performance is appropriate as a satirical interpretation of “the lunatic left. ”Moreover, as Falsetto points out, Magee’s over-the-top performance, which Kubrick encouraged, evokes his work in earlier films in which he played depraved characters, as in the films he appeared in for Roger Corman, and especially his quintessential role, as the Marquis de Sade in Marat/Sade.
   As the scene progresses and Mr. Alexander suddenly recognizes Alex as the leader of the gang that assaulted him and his wife, he becomes hysterical. Kubrick films Magee in an extreme low-angle, distorted shot,“with his hands on his knees, eyes rolling, mouth open and body shaking,” says Falsetto. Given the impact on Alexander of his shock of recognition that Alex is the one who treated him and his wife so cruelly, Magee’s bravura acting seems justified in the context of the scene.
   ALEXANDER WALKER likewise sees Magee’s “chewing the scenery” in this whole sequence as acceptable. Alexander’s “excited cries, as the prospect of retribution shakes his crippled body,” once again suggest his kinship with Dr. Strangelove, another mad ogre in a wheelchair. Magee’s performance in this episode,Walker concludes, is to “key the film to a pitch of baroque horror,” as he speaks in “a parched, excited voice that is rabid for revenge. ” By contrast, Magee’s performance as the Chevalier de Balibari in Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975) is definitely low key. Barry (Ryan O’Neal) is an 18thcentury rogue and adventurer, who serves for a period in the British army during the Seven Years’ War, in which the English and the Prussians battled against the French and their allies. When Barry leaves military service, he falls into the hands of the chevalier, a bogus nobleman. The chevalier (although he is not Barry’s long-lost uncle as he is in the Thackeray novel) entices Barry into becoming his confederate in touring European gambling casinos and fleecing the aristocrats at the gaming tables.
   The scene in which Barry meets the chevalier for the first time sets the tone of their relationship. Having left behind the squalid existence of a soldier in the ranks, he is dazzled by the air of aristocratic selfindulgence reflected in the chevalier’s palatial apartment, as Kubrick scholar THOMAS ALLEN NELSON notes. Barry is further overwhelmed by the chevalier’s appearance: “a white wig, a powdered and rouged face, a black patch over his right eye, and beauty marks both above and below his left eye. ” As the protégé of this painted scoundrel, Barry cultivates a taste for wealth and luxury and is determined to marry a rich widow, who can support him in the manner to which he has become accustomed. Leaving the chevalier behind, he ultimately marries Lady Lyndon, who is just the kind of wealthy widow he has been seeking.
   Although Patrick Magee disappears from the film at this point, his performance as the crafty cardsharp, who serves as a decidedly corrupting influence on Barry, lingers in the viewer’s memory. Magee’s performance, modulated to suit the sly, manipulative behavior of a con artist, is impressive, as he teaches Barry how to adroitly cheat the dissolute aristocrats in the gambling salons. Affirming Kubrick’s reputation for doing several takes of each scene, Magee is cited by Martha Duffy and RICHARD SCHICKEL as saying,“The catch-words on the set are,‘Do it faster, do it slower, do it again. ’ Mostly, ‘Do it again. ’” Among Magee’s subsequent films, Chariots of Fire (1981), Hugh Hudson’s multi-Oscar winner, stands out. Appropriately, the final film in which Magee, the distinguished interpreter of Beckett, appeared, was a 1982 documentary, Samuel Beckett: Silence to Silence.
   ■ Burgess, Anthony, “Juice from a Clockwork Orange,” in Perspectives on Stanley Kubrick, ed. Mario Falsetto (New York: G. K. Hall, 1996), pp. 187–190;
   ■ Duffy, Martha, and Richard Schickel,“Kubrick’s Grandest Gamble: Barry Lyndon,” in Stanley Kubrick: Interviews, ed. Gene Phillips (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001), pp. 159–170;
   ■ Falsetto, Mario, Stanley Kubrick: A Narrative and Stylistic Analysis (Westport, Conn. : Praeger, 1994), pp. 159–164;
   ■ Jackson, Kevin, “Real Horrorshow,” Sight and Sound, Special Kubrick Issue, no. 9 (n. s. ) (September, 1999), pp. 24–27;
   ■ Nelson, Allen Thomas, Kubrick: Inside an Artist’s Maze (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000), pp. 166–194;
   ■ Walker, Alexander, Stanley Kubrick, Director, rev. ed. (New York: Norton, 1999), pp. 196–223.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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