Magic Fire

Magic Fire is a 1955 American biographical film about the life of composer Richard Wagner, released by Republic Pictures.

Magic Fire
Film poster
Directed byWilliam Dieterle
Produced byWilliam Dieterle
Herbert Yates
Screenplay byBertita Harding
Ewald André Dupont
David T. Chantler
Based onnovel by Bertita Harding
StarringAlan Badel
Yvonne De Carlo
Rita Gam
Valentina Cortese
Music byErich Wolfgang Korngold
CinematographyErnest Haller
Distributed byRepublic Pictures
Release date
15 July 1955 (UK)
29 March 1956 (US)
Running time
120 minutes
CountryUnited States

Directed by William Dieterle, the film made extensive use of Wagner's music, which was arranged by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Dieterle worked with Korngold on several Warner Bros. films, including A Midsummer Night's Dream and Juarez. It was one of the final films Republic made in the two-strip color process known as Trucolor.[1]

Although many details about Wagner's life were accurately portrayed, the film often distorted some facts, apparently for dramatic purposes. One high point was the accurate depiction of the riot at the Paris Opera House for the premiere of the revised version of Tannhäuser. The film depicted King Ludwig II's patronage of Wagner, without going into much detail about the king's controversial personality.

The film used a very large cast, opulent sets, and lavish costumes. Since Republic was known primarily for westerns and adventure serials, Magic Fire was one of the rare "prestige" films to be produced by studio chief Herbert Yates. Nevertheless, critical response was mixed and box office receipts in the U.S. were disappointing.[2]


Conductor Richard Wagner dreams of being a composer. He falls for actress Minna Planer.



The film was based on a book by Bertita Harding published in 1953. It was described as "not strictly biography but not quite fiction.'[3] Harding had written a number of other books in this genre.[4]

Film rights were purchased in 1953 by William Dieterle, who had been interested in a film about Wagner for ten years. Dieterle had directed the film Juarez (1939) based in part on Harding's book The Phantom Crown. Dieterle wrote the script with David Chandler. Harding also worked on the script. Finance was obtained from Republic Pictures.[5][6] Republic were expanding their production facilities at the time.[7]

Howard Duff and Ida Lupino were originally considered for the leads.[8] Charlton Heston was also discussed.[9] Eventually the lead role went to Alan Badel who had just been in Dieterle's Salome (1953). Support parts went to Carlos Thompson, Rita Gam and Yvonne de Carlo.[10] Thompson was borrowed from MGM.

Filming started in September 1954. The film was shot in Italy and Germany over 12 weeks and wound up in December.[11][12]

De Carlo had discovered Carlos Thompson in Argentina and had him cast in Fort Algiers. The two had an affair and Thompson owed de Carlo money. Their relationship was over by the time they made this film though.[13]


Dieterle wanted to make a film about Mozart[14] but it did not happen.


  1. Republic Pictures documentary
  2. Eyewitness account by Robert E. Nylund
  3. Fuller, E. (1953, Oct 25). LIFE OF COLORFUL WAGNER. Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963) Retrieved from
  4. By, F. W. (1953, Dec 20). The road led to bayreuth. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  5. Vanessa Brown's 'Moll' to Costar Guinness; Vocalists Aid 'Carmen' Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]03 July 1954: 11.
  6. Smith, C. (1955, Jun 05). Films call to author bertita harding again. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  7. By THOMAS M PRYOR Special to The New York Times. (1954, Aug 17). REPUBLIC STUDIOS CONTINUE TO GROW. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  8. HEDDA HOPPER: Dieterle to Proceed With Wagner's Life Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]17 July 1954: 12
  9. Schallert, E. (1953, Dec 03). Drama. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  10. Special to The New York Times. (1954, Jul 21). DIETERLE SHAPING MOVIE ON WAGNER. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  11. MOVIELAND BRIEFS: Director Finishing Lavish Wagner Film Los Angeles Times 27 Nov 1954: 13.
  12. Yvonne De Carlo Will Narrate Foreign Film; Gobel Manager Irked Ames, Walter. Los Angeles Times 30 Dec 1954: 22.
  13. De Carlo, Yvonne; Warren, Doug (1987). Yvonne : an autobiography. St Martins Press. p. 184.
  14. MOVIELAND EVENTS: New Process Again to Enlarge Film Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]27 Apr 1955: 26.

See also

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