Mandrake the Magician: Screenplay by William Hjortsberg

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Starting point

William Hjortsberg was hired in 1984 by Goldcrest Films in London to adapt Mandrake the Magician as a screenplay. He concocted the storyline with Bob Swaim, a French/American director ( known for "La Balance"), who was set to direct.


William Hjortsberg had two big problems with the project at the start:

  • 1st. How do you make a character who parades around in tails and a cape believable in the modern age?
  • 2nd. What to do about the blatantly racist depiction of Lothar in the comic strip.

The solution to problem one was to set the story in the 1930s. The film would thus have a Deco-Rero look and a hero wearing evening dress all the time would fit right in.

The second problem was solved by making Lothar an Oxford graduate, hardly unreasonable for an African prince. Not only is Lothar the strongest man in the world, he's smarter than Mandrake, and translates Greek and Latin inscriptions to help further the plot. The fez and leopard skin cape were retained but worn with tailored Saville Row suits.

The setting is in various European locations, mainly Paris and fascist Italy.


The story involved the Illuminati and their manipulations to gain world dominance. (This was years before Dan Brown and "The Da Vinci Code.") The film begins at the School of Magic in Tibet. We meet Mandrake and his brother, Derek, as young boys. Derek is the superior magician but goes over to the dark side, in league with the Illuminati.

The plot thus becomes a duel between rival magicians.

Behind the scenes

  • Goldcrest Films went broke and the project got lost in the shuffle.
  • Curiously, William Hjortsberg went to grade school with Lee Falk's daughter, Valerie. He got a big smile from Falk when he told him they had already met, thirty-some years before when William Hjortsberg had birthday cake smeared all over his ten-year-old face.

Timnick Films

Timnick Films printed several of the 214 pages long manuscript[1].


External links