Legendary horror star Vincent Price is at his terrifying best as Gallico the Great, an inspired inventor of magic acts who longs to perform his creations himself. When he finally gets his chance, the production is closed by Gallico’s cruel manager, who wants a rival magician to perform Gallico’s greatest trick, The Lady and the Buzz Saw. An enraged Gallico turns into a homicidal maniac, taking out his victims with the same methods he used to create his illusions. Also starring Mary Murphy (The Wild One) and Eva Gabor (Gigi), THE MAD MAGICIAN is a thrill ride! Originally shown in theaters in 3D, the film is presented in widescreen 2D, with just as much horror, and suspense!!
"You'll get the chair for this!"
"They'll give me the same voltage for killing four as they would for killing three!"
When you have an actor whose career is known for playing a certain sort of character, it's great to see that person in their prime before they were known for a certain sort of schtick. Believe it or not, Vincent Price wasn't always "that guy in the horror" movies. Before he would be known for tying himself to adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe and schlocky Roger Corman pictures, Price was a dynamic actor of the stage and screen. It was only when his career hit a crossroads that he became known as a star of horror pictures. With André De Toth's chilling 1953 film 'The House of Wax 3D,' the foundation was dug and John Brahm's 1954 film 'The Mad Magician 3D' - both produced by Brian Foy - would cement Vincent Price as the leading man of horror.
Don Gallico (Vincent Price) was destined for the stage. As a master craftsman of dangerous death-defying illusions and makeup effects, Gallico can imitate anyone perfectly - including rival magicians. But he shouldn't be known merely as Don Gallico, no, he should be The Great Gallico! He should have his face on theater posters, his name in giant letters on the marquee, and his place should be center stage when the curtain comes up. Unfortunately, Gallico is stuck in a lifetime contract with the unscrupulous Ross Ormond (Donald Randolph) which forces him to create illusions for other magicians without ever getting credit. When his latest creation, the Buzzsaw is taken away by Ross and the hack magician Rinaldi (John Emery), Gallico's thread of sanity is stretched to its frayed end. As his murders stack up, Gallico inches closer to owning the center stage, but the inquisitive nature of his assistant Karen (Mary Murphy), her boyfriend Police Lt. Bruce (Patrick O'Neal) and an imaginative novelist Alice Prentiss (Lenita Lane) could put an end to Gallico's dream of stardom.
If you watch enough movies you're well aware of Hollywood's grand practice of imitating and ripping itself off. When a particular story is a hit, you can bet that another studio has got two more just like it in the pipeline waiting for a release date. It wasn't uncommon for the same studio to reuse the same script, simply retitle it, change the names and location and audiences would get to see a "different and new" movie - even though they just saw it a couple months earlier. As one sits down to enjoy 'The Mad Magician' it shouldn't take too long to start to feel like you've already seen this film previously when it was called 'House of Wax.' In a nutshell, they're very much the same movie with similar plot mechanics. The only major difference here is Vincent Price is an illusionist rather than a sculptor. While there may be similarities between these two films, they're very different animals allowing 'The Mad Magician' to stand beside its sibling 'House of Wax' rather than in that film's shadow.
For starters, most of the plot beats and their mechanics are indeed similar, but this film embraces a devilishly dark sense of humor. While Price and the rest of the cast play their parts straight as an arrow, there is this sinister desire by the audience to see Gallico exact his brand of vengeance. In 'House of Wax,' Price played a genuine madman in Prof. Jarrod whose penchant for murder went beyond revenge. Here in 'The Mad Magician,' Vincent's Gallico is far more sympathetic. He's an honest man pushed into madness by a controlling boss, a thieving colleague, and a cheating wife played by a delightfully gold-digging Eva Gabor. You actually want to see these people dispatched in the worst ways! While there may not be any blood or gore, your imagination is allowed to run wild between a gigantic whirling buzzsaw or a fiery crematorium. Coupled with the means of dispatching his enemies, we're treated to Vincent Price in some impressive makeup imitating his victims (with a little post-production dubbing) in front of various people so as to create an alibi for himself working to build a sense of mystery and dread throughout the picture.
Added to the sense of dark humor is the wonderful presence of Lenita Lane as the mystery novelist Alice Prentiss. As we're introduced to her, we're treated with how her mind works as she can take a newspaper headline and spin a wild and crazy murder plot out of it for her next novel. So when Gallico's murder's start to happen, it's not too surprising that the writer and not the detective will become his principal nemesis. Toss in some inventive means for Gallico to dispose of the bodies he's got piled up around him and you have the makings for a solid and entertaining little thriller - in 3D! Rather than frequently use the distracting and sometimes eye-straining effects most gimmicky 3D films relied upon, 'The Mad Magician' instead focused on building an incredible sense of depth and proportion. Each scene is incredibly layered with objects and characters in the foreground, middle, and deep background. Gallico's workshop is a delight in this respect as there are untold numbers of things and objects as Vincent Price squares off with one of his agitators.
At a breezy 72 minutes, 'The Mad Magician' hits all the right marks without overstaying its welcome or shortchanging the thrills. Like so many of his films, Vincent Price is clearly in his element has the madman with an exaggerated plot for murder. While it's great to see Price do what he does best, one must understand that even after 'House of Wax,' the great actor wasn't yet typecast into horror pictures. He was still known as a terrific character actor from films like 'Leave Her To Heaven' and 'The Three Musketeers' and you can see he's still very much in that mode with this Victorian period piece thriller. I've long been a Vincent Price fan. Ever since I was a little boy he was my favorite to watch because my dad would rent so many of his movies on the weekends. I have vague memories of watching 'The Mad Magician' when I was little, so I can't quite remember whether or not I loved it then, but I definitely had a terrific time reconnecting with this one as an adult. It's a classic piece of cinematic showmanship featuring a sly and creepy plot, some great performances, along with inventively restrained uses of 3D. Fans of classic horror should have a great time while vintage 3D enthusiasts will love watching how well this film works in 3D.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Mad Magician' arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Twilight Time as a limited edition release of 3,000 copies and is pressed onto a Region Free BD-50 disc. Housed in a clear standard Blu-ray case, the disc comes packaged with a booklet containing stills from the film as well as a terrific essay by Film Historian Julie Kirgo. The disc loads directly to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options. When playing the film or the two 3 Stooges shorts, you're given the option of selecting to watch them in 2D (why would you?) or 3D (yes do!) without your player/television set automatically choosing for you.
'The Mad Magician' is brought to Blu-ray in 2D and 3D with an absolutely striking 1.85:1 1080p transfer. My personal experience with this film was relatively limited due to the fact that it has been better than 25 years since I last saw it on full-frame VHS. To that point, I will say this is an exceptional looking release. Nary a blemish is to be found on this print beyond the occasional faded scratch or two leading me to believe that this particular film was given the blue ribbon restoration treatment. I wasn't able to locate any details about this restoration, but suffice to say that the results are impressive. In 2D, there is still a strong sense of depth and dimension, in part to how the film was staged and shot, but also due to the solid greyscale of the black and white image. Black levels are inky and deep and there is plenty of shadow separation so even in 2D and in the darkest scenes, the image maintains a notable sense of depth. Film grain is present throughout but never appears too heavy or noisy.
In 3D, the image comes to life in a grand way. By the time this film was released in 1954, the brief and sudden launch into 3D filmmaking and distribution was already waning. Fewer films were being shown in color on the format thus the reason why this film was shot in black and white - not to say that is a bad thing! As I stated earlier in my review of the film, the use of 3D is far more restrained than most pictures of the era. Rather than relying entirely on gimmicky "in-your-face" 3D tricks, the 3D instead works to build a world for the characters and objects to occupy. From the busy theater backstage to Gallico's workshop to Lt. Bruce's office, objects and characters occupy a natural foreground, middle, and background presence creating an incredible 3D canvas to view. Aside from a Yo-yo and a goofy extending arm gag, there aren't too many trick shots of things poking you in the eye. While there is some great leap out of the screen moments - a gag with water and some sawdust are some interesting examples - the film is more interested in creating a natural-looking three-dimensional world and for the most part, it succeeds beautifully. There is very little ghosting or crosstalk present and it would appear that the image has been brightened to compensate for the darkening effect of the 3D glasses. While the 2D presentation is perfectly fine, the 3D provides the full experience and just adds to the entertainment value of the flick.
'The Mad Magician' arrives with a crisp and beautiful sounding DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono track. I'm always impressed at the sense of imaging and layering a well-restored mono track can produce and this one is no exception. From the opening shot to the climax, there is a lot of audio activity going on in the form of dialogue, sound effects and a terrific score by Arthur Lange and Emil Newman. All of the elements combine to create a terrific, layered audio mix. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout. Some of the dubbing for when Gallico is imitating one of his victims can sound a tad unnatural, but that's more an issue with the voice not fitting the man rather than a mix issue. Sound effects, even through a single channel provide a nice sense of space and dimension. Levels are pitch perfect and you shouldn't need to adjust your volume once you have it at a comfortable setting. The track is free of any hiss, pops, or age-related damaging creating the perfect audio experience for this creepy horror thriller.
Audio Commentary: Film Historians David Del Valle and Steven Peros team up once again for a terrific audio commentary. The pair offers up plenty of personal anecdotes about meeting various cast members as well as tons of production history information and the film's place in the short-lived 3D craze of the early 1950s. A terrific listen if you're a fan of the film.
Master of Fright: Conjuring 'The Mad Magician': (HD 19:49) Ballyhoo continues their terrific work of providing some interesting making-of bonus features for classic genre films. This bonus works as a nice little companion piece to the terrific audio commentary track as there is a bit more information about the making of the movie and it's place in Producer Brian Foy's little archive of horror and genre films that he made for Warner Bros. and Columbia during the 1950s.
Another classic horror picture arrives on Blu-ray in grand fashion thanks to Twilight Time. I love a good vintage 3D film and 'The Mad Magician' is a terrific example of what the medium can bring to screens. Toss in one of Vincent Price's best performances and you have a great evening ahead of you with this creepy thriller. Twilight Time has done a fabulous job with this release bringing a stellar A/V restorations of the 2D and 3D presentations of the film to Blu-ray along with a host of impressive extra features. Seeing the 3 Stooges shorts restored in 3D would have been worth the price of admission alone! Horror fans should absolutely consider picking this up, no Vincent Price collection is complete without it. Vintage 3D fans will have a gas with the film and the Stooges. This release of 'The Mad Magician' is damn impressive and has already made its way onto my favorite Blu-ray releases list for 2017. Suffice to say it comes highly recommended and is a must own for genre and 3D fans.