REPOST -- CTP Episode of the Day - 04.14.06 - The Amazing Maleeni

Today's Cherished Episode: The Amazing Maleeni (7x08)
Original Air Date: January 16, 2000
Written By: Vince Gilligan, John Shiban & Frank Spotnitz
Directed By: Thomas J. Wright

When a magic trick goes very wrong, Mulder and Scully are drawn into the world of small-time hoods and big-time illusions, where seeing is not necessarily believing.

"It's about originality, style, and more than anything else soul -- because that's what separates the great ones from the hacks."

Some "The Amazing Maleeni" Tidbits & Musings:

-- Frank Spotnitz was not the most popular guy around the day he suggested the story that would ultimately become "The Amazing Maleeni." "Vince was ready to kill me," said Spotnitz. "He wanted to know why I wanted to do a story about magic. For him, this was agony."

-- Gilligan laughed about it later, but he was not laughing when Spotnitz was laying down his ideas for the show. "Frank wanted to do this stand-alone episode about a magician. But he did not want to have anything even remotely paranormal in it. He wanted it to be totally about magic and illusion."

-- "'The Amazing Maleeni' started from an idea that Frank Spotnitz had," said co-writer John Shiban. "He had been saying to me for two years prior, 'I want to do a magic episode.' He felt in the beginning there was something in magic, in the idea of illusion, as an X-File, and whether magic was real or not."

-- Spotnitz's love of magic had translated into an ongoing campaign for an X-Files magic episode since season two. Ricky Jay was his favorite magician, and so a magic show starring Jay was his dream project. Spotnitz's persistence eventually led to a green light and the collaboration between Spotnitz, Gilligan, and Shiban in which magic and a heist plot reminiscent of The Sting unfolded in Los Angeles. Even though they had not even begun to cast the show, Ricky Jay was very much on everyone's mind, so much so that Gilligan went out of his way to incorporate many of Jay's trademark tricks into the script.

-- "The key to that show for me was the casting of Ricky Jay, who I'd been a fan of for many years," Spotnitz said. "And we really designed that character and wrote his voice specifically for Ricky."

-- While the script for "The Amazing Maleeni" was being fashioned, the casting department began what Chris Carter described as "a delicate courtship" to land Ricky Jay for the episode. Rick Millikan called his agency and the response was that he might be available. For the young punk magician who challenged him, the show cast its net for magician David Blaine, who had come to some notoriety by burying himself alive and freezing himself in a block of ice. Things were looking promising. Then the roof fell in.

-- Spotnitz recalled, "We found out that the agency had never even informed Ricky Jay that we wanted him. We found out that Ricky Jay couldn't do it. Then we found out that David Blaine couldn't do it. We had the script all ready to go and all of a sudden we had no magicians. We were ready to shoot ourselves."

-- The agency finally admitted that they had not broached The X-Files episode to Ricky Jay because they knew he was very busy and very tired. But Chris Carter was not going to take no for an answer. "We got on the phone with him," said Carter. "He agreed to come to our offices to talk about the script and ended up doing some card trucks for us that reduced Frank and I to being six-year-olds again."

-- Jay was agreeable to doing the part but requested that he stick to the tricks he normally did onstage rather than performing new ones. John Shiban related that the scene in which Maleeni talked to Mulder and Scully in the bank office underwent a slight change when Jay argued that the scripted trick of tossing a playing card into a bulletin board was not in character. A more traditional card trick in which he located a card selected by Mulder was substituted.

-- "The Amazing Maleeni" proved to be an interesting travelogue of Los Angeles, from the famous downtown to less well known East Los Angeles. For the opening sequence in which a down-and-out Maleeni plied his craft for chump change, the Santa Monica Pier was utilized.

-- The Santa Monica Pier is located at the foot of Colorado Boulevard in Santa Monica, and is a prominent California landmark. The current pier is actually two piers that long had separate owners. The long, narrow Municipal Pier opened September 9, 1909, primarily to carry sewer pipes beyond the breakers and had no amenities. The short, wide, adjoining Pleasure Pier (also known as Newcomb Pier) to the south was built in 1916 by Charles I.D. Looff and his son Arthur, who were amusement park pioneers. The current Santa Monica Pier contains Pacific Park, a family amusement park with a large ferris wheel. It also has an aquarium, shops, entertainers, an arcade, a pub, and restaurants. At the end of the pier, anglers may pursue their hobby. The Park also contains a carousel with 44 hand-carved horses that was built in 1922 on the Pleasure Pier. It was rebuilt in 1990 inside the Looff Hippodrome where a calliope provides musical accompaniment.

-- The carousel had a cameo in the 1973 Oscar-winning film The Sting (as noted above, an inspiration for this episode). At the beginning of the film, Robert Redford found Paul Newman operating a carousel supposedly located in Chicago. As the scene started, a carousel building could be seen in a far shot with a cityscape in the background. The shot was actually the carousel on the Santa Monica Pier and the cityscape in the background was painted in over what was actually the Pacific Ocean.

-- The actors enjoyed the "amusement park" nature of the episode but were constantly on the alert not to forget that there was an X-File at the core of all the smoke and mirrors. "Because of all the magic, I was constantly being entertained," said Gillian Anderson. "The difficulty with something like that is you have a tendency to forget that people are still having bad things happen to them. It was tough because a lot of the lines were being written tongue-in-cheek and David and I were constantly playing to the comedic side of the script. We had to keep reminding ourselves that we were dealing with murder."

-- A constant challenge on the special effects front during the making of "The Amazing Maleeni" was to keep things as camera-real as possible, in keeping with a show about magic and illusion. Which meant that during the sequence in which Billy LaBonge impressed crime boss Cissy Alvarez by having his hand burst into flame, a stuntman was brought in rather than relying on a more time-consuming and ultimately less convincing visual effect.

-- Episode director Thomas J. Wright also directed Season 7's "The Goldberg Variation" and "Millennium." He was the obvious choice to direct the X-Files "Millennium" episode as he directed 25 episodes of the Millennium series, including the series finale.

-- Timeline: Pinchbeck's marker was dated 12/29/99, and the vault sign-out log that Scully picked up was dated 1/12 as the day the armored truck had its attempted robbery.

-- Max Malini was a real magician, and was one of the most legendary performers of the 20th Century. Born in 1875 in Poland and growing up in New York City, Malini (born Max Katz) began his career performing in saloons and eventually went on to perform for kings, queens and millionaires. Famous for his sleight of hand and puzzling effects, Malini toured the world until his death in 1942. Unlike most globe trotting magicians, he carried almost no equipment, relying on his skill rather than props to astound audiences.

-- The Great Muldeeni and his lovely assistant were definitely quicker than the eye! Scully said the dynamic duo took the "first plane to Los Angeles" and that had to be an understatement. They must have boarded *before* Maleeni lost his head. How else to explain that Maleeni's van was still at the pier, the tourists' video camera evidence was still on the scene, and the amusement park hadn't emptied its trash?

-- Just in case anyone was planning on doing this later, you cannot do electronic fund transfers with a federal agent's badge number and thumbprint. That process was fabricated for the episode. The American Banking Association does not release to the public its procedure for a federal agent to access electronic transfer funds.

-- The super-realistic prosthetic head was supplied by John Vulich's Optic Nerve. "We had to do a head cast of Ricky Jay," explained Vulich. "We had very little time to do that effect, I'd say four, maybe five days, tops, which really wasn't an adequate time to do a fake head like that, especially the level of detail. There was a scene where he was in the van. One of the actors just shook him, and the head kind of fell off onto the ground. And we had to do this on cue, so we thought the easiest way to do it was with an electromagnet. You really couldn't see it, but there was a little plate here on the base of the fake head, a metal thing that was hidden by all the gruesome stuff. And on the other stump, there was a very strong electromagnet that the head was placed onto, that would really hold while the actor shook it. Then we just hit a switch and that allowed the head to fall over on cue, which worked surprisingly well."

-- Unfortunately, the effect showing Maleeni's head spinning all the way around wasn't as realistic as the prosthetic head. In a series which usually had incredible visuals, that particular effect was incredibly cheesy and poorly done.

-- TPTB must have thought that Scully and the audience had a short attention span. Mulder told Scully (and us) what EFT stood for only a few minutes after the Bank Manager explained the same thing.

-- Billy LaBonge was named for Second Unit Director of Photography Bob LaBonge.

-- LaBonge was played by Jonathan Levit, a skilled magician who performed regularly at the Magic Castle in Hollywood. In an obscure X-Files connection, during the second half of the only season of the 1973 series The Magician (that young Fox Mulder wanted to watch on that fateful night his sister was abducted), the series' main character stage magician Tony Blake moved his home base to the Magic Castle.

-- Since his X-Files appearance, Ricky Jay had a recurring role (Eddie Sawyer) in the HBO Western series Deadwood. He also wrote an episode of the series. In 2006, Jay served as technical advisor (magic) for two films: The Illusionist and The Prestige (in which he also appeared).

-- Actor Robert LaSardo (Cissy Alvarez) has worked steadily since his X-Files appearance, guest starring on TV shows including Ghost Whisperer, Bones, and CSI: Miami. He has had recurring roles on Nip/Tuck (as Escobar Gallardo) and General Hospital (as Father Mateo Ruiz). LaSardo has tattoos covering nearly his entire body.

-- Did you know an Olympic Gold Medalist appeared in "The Amazing Maleeni"? Sherri Howard, who played a bank employee, was a member of the gold medal winning women's 4 x 400 meter relay team in the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics.

-- "The great ones always know when to leave the stage." If only the show itself had remembered to heed this advice.

-- Once & Future Retreads: No actors, but the Cradock Marine Bank, spectacularly blown up quite a few times in "Monday," made another appearance in this episode. (By the way, the Cradock Marine Bank was named for a suburb of Portsmouth, Virginia, where Vince Gilligan's girlfriend Holly Rice grew up.)

(Thanks to chrisnu for today's pics.)

Please share your first impressions, favorite (or cringe-worthy) moments, classic lines, favorite fanfic, nagging questions, repeated viewing observations, etc., as today we celebrate "The Amazing Maleeni."