How far would you go for fame and fortune? Would you sell your soul? That is exactly what happens in this oddball horror movie from 1971, The Mephisto Waltz. Alan Alda plays music critic Myles Clarkson who must conduct an interview with the so-called “greatest pianist alive”, Duncan Ely, portrayed perfectly by Curt Jurgens (as a side note, this is the first time I have seen Jurgens as anything other than a Nazi officer). As the conversation progresses, it is revealed the critic is a former and disgruntled concert pianist himself, who quit after his first and only concert was met with scathing reviews. However, Ely recognizes the talent he has just by looking at his hands, and has him play a few tunes. The two soon become best friends and their families intermingle. Is Ely just a nice guy, or is something sinister at hand?
Dying from Leukemia, the famous pianist dabbles in Satanism, and strikes a bargain with his new friend. As he dies, a ritual is performed which manages to transfer his soul into him. Clarkson receives all his talent, inherits an enormous sum of money, and also undertakes the dead pianist’s concert schedule, becoming world-famous in his own right. There is only one problem: their wives. Jacqueline Bisset is his wife who recognizes something is off, and tries to get to the bottom of it. Through this quest, she will battle a murderous dog, strange occult practices, and Ely’s wife (Barbara Perkins) who is in love with Clarkson since he is really Ely, and the ending brings the story full-circle.
The Mephisto Waltz was made at a time when Satanism, witchcraft, and the occult were becoming highly popular in Hollywood. This was mainly due to the success of Rosemary’s Baby three years earlier. There are some echoes of that plot here, but it manages to be original in what was still a very young genre. The acting is decent, with other supporting roles taken up by Bradford Dillman and William Windom. The cinematography and dream sequences are also top-notch, and makes this a decent watch in all of its weird glory. This is not a film for everyone, though, moving at an incredibly slow pace with not much action. It does manage to stay classy, intelligent, and intriguing. For that reason, I can give it a recommendation for you to check out.
7 out of 10 stars.
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