The Mad Magician - The Mad Magician(Blu Ray) [Powerhouse - 2020]
The Mad Magician was directed in 1954 by John Brahm, who would go on to direct episodes of both The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. This Vincent Price vehicle is really interesting as it was made in the aftermath of his huge hit The House of Wax and featured a lot of the same crew, scriptwriter Crane Wilbur, producer Bryan Foy and cinematographer Bert Glennon all returned for this B picture that was also shot in 3D, as was the trend at the time.
Don Gallico (Vincent Price), a master at designing magical illusions, is employed by Ross Ormond (Donald Randolph) to produce elaborate set pieces for the famous stage magician, The Great Rinaldi (John Emery). At the film’s opening Gallico is about to make his stage debut as an illusionist with a brand-new buzz saw trick that he has designed especially for himself. His assistant Karen Lee (Mary Murphy) introduces the nervous Gallico to her boyfriend police Lieutenant Alan Bruce (Patrick O’Neal) before the show, an integral part of the film’s set up. Just as Gallico is about to unveil his buzz saw illusion for the first time the curtain is dropped and the show halted, it turns out his contract with Ormond means that anything he develops becomes the property of Ormond for the exclusive use of The Great Rinaldi. Gallico is distraught and after showing Bruce his contract he realizes he is handcuffed to Ormond.
This is where things get a little more interesting as Gallico and Ormond have a shared interest, both men have been married to Claire (Eva Gabor), the current Mrs. Ormond, a greedy socialite who left Gallico to get her hands on Ormond’s money. Once the two men are back at Gallico’s studio they get into a heated row that results in Gallico murdering Ormond. Using his skills to hide the murder, he mimics Ormond, using a mask to ensure that he looks like him, and mimicking his voice perfectly. He then takes a room in the house of a murder mystery novelist, Mrs. Prentiss (Lenita Lane) which is merely the start of this great little melodrama.
Gallico is that rarity in cinema, the sympathetic villain, he is someone for whom you feel great pity, those around him are despicable individuals using him for their own ends, whether that be his former wife who drained him of cash before moving on, Ormond who has him locked down in a binding contract, or Rinaldi who is determined to ensure he only makes illusions for him.
Price is excellent, and while he is more understated than usual, he still takes center stage ensuring that despite the strong supporting cast, he is always our focus. The film itself is pretty much a reimagining of House of Wax, with Price reprising the role of the master artist who is pressured into working for the benefit of others. Despite the similarity, The Mad Magician is a well-constructed melodrama, with a plot that is both nicely scripted and perfectly paced, and with just enough comic relief from our amateur investigator Mrs. Prentiss and her husband played by Jay Novello. The print used looks great and the sound is as good as one could expect of a film of this age. The disc itself features some terrific bonus materials, most notable is the fact you can view the film in either the 2D or 3D version, there is also the excellent audio commentary from Kevin Lyons and the ever-listenable Jonathan Rigby. Alongside this, there is a great feature about the film’s use of 3D, as well as Super 8 versions of the film and a couple of Three Stooges shorts, Spooks and Pardon My Backfire, both from 1953 and both in 2D or 3D.
There is plenty here to keep the average Vincent Price fan happy, Powerhouse has once again come up trumps. Taking an underappreciated gem of a feature, releasing it in a lovely new 2K restoration, with some excellent bonus materials, thus hopefully reviving its fortunes.Darren Charles