The Mad Magician | The 1954 3D chiller gets a 2k remastered release on Blu-ray
Produced on the back of the expected success of 1953’s House of Wax, The Mad Magician (which was released in the US in May 1954) returned Vincent Price to the world of three-dimensional horror. Here he plays Don Gallico, a creator of illusions for stage magicians, including the Great Rinaldi (John Emery). But his opening night is thwarted by his boss, Ormond (Donald Randolph), who has already stolen Gallico’s wife (Eva Gabor) and now wants his latest invention – the buzz saw. In a moment of madness, Gallico decapitates his employer.
To cover up the crime and the ones that follow, Gallico dons a series of elaborate disguises, but he hasn’t counted on his assistant Karen (Mary Murphy), her detective boyfriend Alan (Patrick O’Neal) and mystery writer Alice (Lenita Lane) from getting in his way…
While shot in 3D and sharing the same crew (producer, scriptwriter, make-up artist and cameraman) and a similar murder mystery scenario to House of Wax, The Mad Magician isn’t a patch on that classic (which was yet to be released), but in its own cheerfully cheesy way, it certainly does the trick.
Even though he’s playing another ‘wronged’ artist out for revenge (a common theme in many of his horror roles), Price gives a skilful performance as the aggrieved anti-hero who goes from shy, softly spoken, genius (who cuts quite the athletic physique in the workshop scenes) to enraged murderer (complete with arched eyebrow, which would become a Price trademark) as the plot unfolds. The supporting cast is excellent, particulary Lenita Lane – as the nosy mystery writer – who would reunite with Price in 1959’s mystery thriller The Bat, directed by her husband Crane Wilbur AKA the screenwriter of both The Mad Magician and House of Wax.
Eva Gabor, who play Gallico’s gold-digging ex wife Claire, insisted on wearing her own jewellery for the film and they really sparkle in Sony’s 2k remaster, as do the stage illusions and Gallico’s grisly gadgets (the buzz saw and crematorium), which were credited to illusionist Bob Haskell (1914-1972), but were actually devised by magic inventor Merv Taylor (1904-1974) who gets a neat little write up in the accompanying booklet.
And here’s an interesting bit of trivia – the nasal inflection which would come to distinguish Price’s unique voice has its origins in this film: a stunt fight with Patrick O’Neal ended badly when the actor landed a real wooden table onto Price’s nose, which required plastic surgery to correct.
Meticulously directed by John Brahm (while also borrowing the plot of his 1944 melodrama, The Lodger and elements from 1945’s Hangover Square), The Mad Magician is presented here in both 2D and 3D, and is accompanied by a pair of 3D comedy shorts featuring The Three Stooges.
The Indicator Limited Edition (3,000) UK premiere Blu-ray features the following special features…
• 2K restoration
• 3D and 2D presentations
• Original mono audio
• New audio commentary with film historians Jonathan Rigby and Kevin Lyons
• Three-Dimensional Magic (2020): and appreciation of The Mad Magician and the 3D filmmaking boom of the 1950s by cinematographer Frank Passingham and archivist Tom Vincent, presented in 3D and 2D
• Super 8 version: cut-down home cinema presentation in anaglyphic 3D
• Pardon My Backfire (1953), Three Stooges short presented in 3D and 2D
• Spooks! (1953), Three Stooges short presented in 3D and 2D
• Image gallery
• Original theatrical trailer
• New and improved English subtitles
• Limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by Kat Ellinger on Merv Taylor, a look at the career of producer Bryan Foy, an archival interview with director John Brahm by David Del Valle, the promotional campaign of The Mad Magician, contemporary critical responses, Jeff Billington on the Three Stooges’ 3D shorts, and film credits