This may be down to pure ignorance as this film was released before I had been born but The Mephisto Waltz is one of those movies that I feel deserves more recognition than it currently receives, forgotten a little by the ebbing of time.
Some critics ridiculed the movie at the time because of its loose handling of the magick involved and the occult’s fairly basic premise, that of soul transference, but this is exactly why I believe it works. The cavalier approach that the people have wields these dark arts have allowed it to consume them and are now governed by these external forces.
The film draws its name from the musical compositions of Franz Liszt, in which one of the four waltzes involved the intoxicating lure of Faust by Mephistopheles.
This sexual lust and frenzy that is on display is deliberately heightened and reduces all the people involved to base animalistic behaviour.
Initially the temptation falls on Myles Clarkson (Alan Alda) a music journalist who still pines for his lost ambition to become a pianist. When Myles interviews a virtuoso on the piano, Duncan Ely (Curd Jurgens), a fascinating link is drawn between the two figures, one from admiration, the other, a curious magnetism arises when Duncan notices Myles’ hands are perfect for playing the piano.
From this moment on Duncan and his grown daughter, Roxanne (Barbara Parkins) inject themselves into the lives of Myles and his wife, Paula (Jacqueline Bisset). Paula is instantly suspicious of the attraction, but Myles is enraptured by it all and sees Duncan as a fatherly figure. This is particularly strengthened when Myles learns that Duncan is dying from leukemia.
Myles and Paula begin to drift apart as cracks begin to appear in their relationship, bearing in mind that this was the era of free love, but there is an amount of control that is needed on behalf of both parties. This is when Duncan and Roxanne strike, and begin the transfer of Duncan’s soul into Myles body.
At first Paula is unaware of the changes but this is where the film becomes to turn into something of a mystery. Paula delves into the strange behaviours of her husband Myles and the history behind Roxanne to uncover a satanic plot. Will she be able to turn things around and win Myles back or will the occultists turn her instead?
While the plot tackles leaps of fantasy, Jacqueline Bisset is magnificent as the troubled wife and distraught woman, struggling to come to terms with the loss of her husband and the threat of losing her own identity in the turmoil of satanic rituals.
If you can forgive the ridiculous nature in the plot, you can be treated to a fun and enjoyable thriller, where the end is far from predictable.
- Saul Muerte