1950s, 3-D, Blu Ray, CLASSIC, Classic Hollywood, cult, FILM HISTORY, Horror, magic, review, tv film radio books theatremusic storytelling horror mystery fantasy science fiction thrillers drama, Twilight Time, Twilight Time Blu Ray, Uncategorized, Vincent Price, wierd

THE MAD MAGICIAN (Twilight Time Blu Ray)

 

The Mad Magician 2D/3D (Columbia,1954) Twilight Time Blu Ray $29.95   B&W .72min. https://www.twilighttimemovies.com/mad-magician-the-3d-blu-ray/

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Classic horror fans and Vincent Price fans will want to add this often overlooked film.

Created to cash in on the huge success of HOUSE OF WAX (W.B.,1953), this Columbia film not only used 3-D ,but also borrowed the same star and set their plot in the same period. The decision to shoot the film in black and white may have been a cost saving decision (or as is said on one of the Blu Ray extras, an artistic choice),but it may be why this film is not as popular as Price’s previous period horror film with modern audiences.

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In the film’s favor was a superb cast ,led by Price and a director who knew his way around period thrillers. That director was John Brahm. Brahm had directed two of the best Jack The Ripper inspired films of all time ,THE LODGER (Fox,1944 ) and HANGOVER SQUARE(Fox ,1945),both starring Laird Cregar.

The screenplay was by former actor Crane Wilbur (he had co-starred with Pearl White in the original silent serial PERILS OF PAULINE (General Film Co.,1914)turned playwright and screenwriter.

Wilbur had written a Broadway thriller called OUIJA BOARD in 1920 , but his next play is better known.

THE MONSTER (1922) was later adapted into a Lon Chaney film for MGM . Wilbur hopped back and forth from actor to writer to director on stage and screen before settling down as a script writer. He worked on the screenplay for the spooky thriller THE SPIRITUALIST/THE AMAZING MR X (Eagle Lion,1948) (influenced by his early play OUIJA BOARD?), before working for producer Bryan Foy on the political thriller I WAS A COMMUNIST FOR THE F.B.I. (W.B,1951).

Foy obviously liked his work, as he hired Wilbur to write HOUSE OF WAX . Wilbur wrote for Price one more time with his adaptation of the old stage play THE BAT (A.A.,1959).

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Wilbur may have been responsible for Lenita Lane appearing in THE MAD MAGICIAN, as she was his wife in real life. She also appeared in other screenplays by him. A fine actress in her own right, it is a shame we did not see her in more films (her final appearance was in her husband’s THE BAT, which he also directed).

At the end of the 19th Century, Don Gallico (Vincent Price) works for Illusion Incorporated Company, owned by Ross Ormond (Donald Randolph, later General Mark Ford in THE DEADLY MANTIS(Universal,1957)). The company creates stage effects for magicians, and Gallico has decided that he would like to strike out on his own as an illusionist. He is told, however that even though he created the illusions on his own time ,their contract has proprietary rights to any effects that Gallico creates. Ormond has little respect for his valued employee, having cuckolded Gallico by wooing away his wife Claire (Eva Gabor ,most famous for the tv series GREEN ACRES (Filmways ,1965-71)who had tied of being poor.

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To add insult, Gallico is forced to demonstrate his newest creation, a buzz saw that apparently decapitates anyone placed upon tithe Great Rinaldi (John Emery, who portrayed Dr. Karl Eckstrom in ROCKETSHIP X-M (Lippert ,1950) and in real life was often rumored to be an illegitimate son of John Barrymore!) feels that this is just the piece he wants for his act.

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After Rinaldi leaves, Gallico snaps and kills Ormond with the buzz saw device (the murder is not shown just the insane glee on Price’s face ). Luckily, Gallico is also a master of disguise (and obviously the innovator of slip rubber life masks!) and makes himself up to resemble Ormond to set up an alibi and get rid of the remains.

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When Ormond does not appear after a few days ,the police begin to investigate. By coincidence (or screenwriter Wilbur) Detective Alan Bruce (Patrick O’Neal, later himself to star as the baddie in a HOUSE OF WAX inspired period tv film that was released theatrically, CHAMBER OF HORRORS (WB,1966), who is investigating the mystery, is also the boyfriend of Karen (Mary Murphy, the ‘good girl’ from THE WILD ONE, Columbia,1953) Gallico’s assistant.

Gallico commits a few more murders in various disguises ,disposing of one body in a bonfire (similar to a major sequence in John Brahm’s own HANGOVER SQUARE) . The murders also draw the attention of a plucky female writer ,Alice Prentiss (Lenita Lane).Who will survive the vengeance of THE MAD MAGICIAN ?

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A fun ,quick (72 minutes), there is a strong sense of déjà vu if you had seen HOUSE OF WAX, but the film also solidifies the template for the later Price “Vengeance” horror films like THE ABOMINABLE DR PHIBES(AIP,1971) and THEATRE OF BLOOD(U.A.,1973) with elaborate murders and disguises.

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Price relishes his role, and gives it his all. It is odd seeing Patrick O’Neal as a hero in this his film debut (the Actor’s Studio trained actor had appeared on television prior) but he acquits himself nicely. Lenita Lane is sort of an gay 90s version of Lois Lane . The entire supporting cast fills their roles marvelously .

The direction by Brahm is solid ,though many feel he doesn’t take full advantage of the three dimensional process. I and many others feel he used it sparingly to emphasize certain images by dramatic placement rather than always throwing things into the lens(which he also does ,though, during Price’s magic acts).

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TWILIGHT TIME has done an amazing job with this disc. The 50GB Blu Ray is REGION FREE ,and limited to a pressing of only 3,000 . The 1.85:1 1080p transfer is incredibly sharp in either 2 or 3D. The Grayscale is very rich and compliments the cinematography of Bert Glennon (also from HOUSE OF WAX). The film seems to have strong grain but that appears to be from the original negative . The DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono track sound is clear and hiss free.

There are a lot of extras on this disc :

-First off , as mentioned ,the film can be watched either 3-D(you need a monitor and Blu Ray Player that allows this) or in regular 2-D.

Audio Commentary :There is a wonderful running audio commentary by David Del Valle and Steve Peros   , discussing the behind the scenes production of the film and the careers of many of those involved , as well as the 3-D phenomenon of the era. You can hear in their voices that they are truly enjoying this film (and who can blame them?) .

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Isolated Music Score : You can hear the score by Arthur Lange (composer ,music director ,and orchestrator of over 200 scores, often uncredited) and Emil Newman ( brother of Alfred & Lionel Newman, and composer in his own right on such films as UNDYING MONSTER (Fox,1942)),as well as the Theremin played by Dr. Samuel Hoffman, the former violinist whose eerie playing of Léon Theremin ‘s invention graced the scores of films since SPELLBOUND (Selznick Intenational,1945). Dr. Hoffman’s work appeared in films both big budget (THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, Fox ,1951) to low budget (BILLY THE KID VS DRACULA, Embassy 1966), usually uncredited.

 

51332560aefeb575e790ed3e7429bc17Master of Fright :Conjuring “The Mad Magician”- Ballyhoo Motion Pictures, under direction by Daniel Griffith, have been providing some of the best making of bonus features for Shout Factory. Now , also working for TWILIGHT TIME, they continue the superb must watch documentaries that they are noted for .Between this and the audio commentary, you get a wonderful history of this film.

Two THREE STOOGES 3-D Short subjects : SPOOKS and PARDON MY BACKFIRE (both Columbia 1953)normal-randall-spooks

SPOOKS was the 148th of the 190 short subjects that the comedy team made for the studio. The boys (Moe & Shemp Howard, plus Larry Fine) are private eyes whose search for a missing girl (this was actress Norma Randals largest role of note) brings them into contact with Dr. Jeckyl (character actor Phillip Van Zandt, who was Muller in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, Universal 1944) and his brutish helper Mr. Hyde (former boxer Tom Kennedy who was often the heavy to comic greats The Marx Brothers, Laurel & Hardy, and Bob Hope, among others). There is also, of course ,a gorilla (an uncredited Steve Calvert)

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PARDON MY BACKFIRE has the team working as mechanics who capture some on the lam convicts that have the misfortune of pulling into their garage .stooges_pardon_my_backfire

Maybe it was the horror connection, but I felt SPOOKS was the more entertaining of the two. Both films work in 2 as well as three dimension (with hypos, bats, fire, water, and knives being hurled at the audience). The picture and sound quality on both are superb.spookstitle2

-The Original Trailer. Lots of Ballyhoo (That” House of Wax” Man).

themadmagician3d_bdbookletcover_highres__47771_1481961658_1280_1280-Booklet: Once again, TWILIGHT TIME provides another well written information booklet (kudos once again to Julie Kirgo).

THE MAD MAGICIAN leaps to the top of the list for any fan of classic film fans. classic horror fans, 3D lovers, and, of course, Vincent Price followers.

I suggest you order ASAP, as I think that this collectible disc is going to sell out fast!

 HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION.

Kevin G Shinnickmad-magician-debonair

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3-D, Classic Hollywood, tv film radio books theatremusic storytelling horror mystery fantasy science fiction thrillers drama, Uncategorized, Western

COMIN’ AT YA (1981)

                    BLURAY COMIN                                                                      COMIN’ AT YA (1981) -BLU RAY- MVD VISUALS-  $24.99

http://www.amazon.com/Comin-At-Ya-Blu-Ray-3D/dp/B015CVRPL8

People rave over Quentin Tarantino’s self-indulgent crap while forgetting that Q.T. rips off films like this and claims they are merely homages.  Well, yours truly prefers to see the original films.   They aren’t classics, and many are not original, but also they are not self-important. They are ENTERTAINMENT.

One of those films that was made to entertain was the 3-D packed COMIN’ AT YA (1981).

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A huge hit when it came out (supposedly it was briefly withdrawn during its initial run due to running out of 3-D glasses!), this was the third western from star Tony Anthony and director Ferninando Baldi (their previous collaborations were BLINDMAN (1971) costarring Ringo Starr and GET MEAN (1975).    COMIN’ AT YA was their biggest hit together, which was followed up by another 3-D film, TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS (1983), an Indiana Jones clone.

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Tony Antony had been born Roger Pettito in the U.S., but his frustration in minor American films (FORCE OF IMPULSE (61), which he wrote and starred in using the Tony Anthony moniker and which co-starred Robert Alda and John Carroll Naish) seemed to have led him like many American actors to a career in Italy (La ragazza in prestito/Engagement Italiano (1964) had him working with Rossano Brazzi).

In 1967, he was cast for the first time as “The Stranger” in ‘Un dollar tar i denti’/ A DOLLAR BETWEEN THE TEETH (1967). The Spaghetti Western had taken off fully after Clint Eastwood did A FISTFUL OF DOLLAR /’Per un pugno di dollar’ (1964).    There had been Italian made westerns as early as the 1950s, but after Eastwood’s film did rake in fistfuls of dollars worldwide, the floodgates truly opened.  Westerns were popular still in the U.S., but the John Wayne style western were not making the box office splash of those made in Italy and Spain. There was an energy, edginess, more explosive violence and cinematic language that these films had that brought audiences in.

maybe this poster inspired anthony to use 3d   released in s[pecial edition by blue undergorund(Maybe this poster for GET MEAN inspired Anthony to try 3-D? (Blue Underground released the 2 disc special edition blue ray/dvd combo set ) .

However, by the mid-1970s, Westerns had begun to lose their appeal, so that fewer and fewer were being made either here or abroad.

3-D had also had waves of popularity from the 1950s, with sputters during the 1960s and 1970s (FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN,1973 perhaps the most popular).  It was a gimmick that mostly seemed confined to soft core porn films.

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Suddenly, 3-D came back into vogue, thanks to COMIN’ AT YA.  This was not the first 3-D western (there were several in 1953, including John Wayne’s HONDO) but this may be the first Spaghetti western in the process. A co-production by U.S. film and television production company Filmways (who acquired American International Pictures in 1979) and Lupo-Anthony Productions with monies coming from various countries, it was filmed in a single strip 3-D system. Two Techniscope frames, one for left eye and one right eye, were stacked one above each other in the same area as one ordinary Techniscope -format frame. The problem with this system is that it had to be projected through a polarizing filter, and then being viewed through glasses meant there was a huge loss of light, resulting in a dimmer image on screen when projected.    Thus a lot of these films looked somewhat dark to the average movie goer.  It didn’t hurt the box office for the film, as it was such a hit they had to withdraw temporarily as they ran out of 3d glasses!   Anthony seems to have pretty much retired after making TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS in 1983, so I am sure he did pretty well for himself with these movies.

The restoration of the current BLU RAY release by MVD does much to correct the problem of dark images from screenings past.  The restoration was supervised under the direction of Tony Anthony, and it seems that a lot of original elements as possible were used. It is a shame they didn’t include a commentary track with Anthony, because I am sure he would have been full of fascinating stories. The only real extra is a trailer and a 3-d promo reel. Oddly, they do not include the original trailer used for the U.S., as that had no footage from the film but instead explained the 3-D process.

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Still the real prize is getting this film in such fine condition 35 years on. To view it in 3-D, you must have a Blu-Ray Player and Television 3-D system to see the full effects. Watching it in 2-D, I was able to enjoy the film fine and saw a lot of effects where the images were thrust toward the audience.

 

 (1950s matinee with kids enjoy 3-d leaping right out at you!)

The first ten minutes are dialogue free, and are mostly a black and white flashback of Anthony’s character H.H. Hart (who at times, looks like a thinner Burt Young) is about to be married to Abilene (Spanish actress Victoria Abril, who was Queen Isabella in the 1976 film ROBIN & MARIAN, and later an Almodovar regular). Through the door burst two gunslingers, brothers Pike (co-screenwriter Gene Quintano) and Polk (Ricardo Palacios). They shoot and kill the unfortunate priest and wound Hart (a neat effect has the blood in bright red shooting out).  The two baddies then grab the bride and storm out.  Pike by the way has the word “Love “written on his fingers, which makes me think they were harkening back to the classic NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955).

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Hart survives and spends the rest of the film trying to get her back, killing the members of their gang as he inches closer and closer to them.  He meets a crazy Scotsman (Lewis Gordon, who would work with Anthony on his next film) who seems to know a lot for some odd reason and lets H.H. know why his wife was kidnapped (we have no idea how much time has passed, but it seems it is only a short time, meaning that H.H. heals very quickly!)  The outlaws, it seems kidnap women and sell them to brothels down in Mexico.

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A big scene has a group of frightened and abused female captives in an old tower attacked by a swarm of bats (inspired perhaps by KISS OF THE VAMPIRE,1963, with faker looking bats if you can believe it. Many is the time that you can see the string as they bob up and down and flying toward the lens *). Later, when H.H. kills Polk, Pike kills all the women except Abilene, hoping to have his revenge on our hero.

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That pretty much is the plot of the film.  Then again, most spaghetti westerns pretty much were revenge films, often with a nasty streak to them so it pretty much follows the formula.   The multi-dimensional effects are what made this film stand. Like so many 3-D films, the quality of the effects go from “Wow, cool” to “oh I see the wires “.

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A major problem that man people have with the film is its dependence on a LOT of slow motion. I mean, a LOT!    Since Peckinpah created the bloody ballet of violence in THE WILD BUNCH (1969) a lot of filmmakers tried to emulate it with varying degrees of success.   This was not one of the more successful uses of it, but it does pad the film’s meager plot line to barely feature length (87 minutes, not the 91 listed, and that includes the long title sequence at the end).   Also , a lot of scenes switch to black & white for no reason.

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Still, it is a well-made film that does what it promises, it has things coming’ at ya. Snakes, yo-yos (shades of HOUSE OF WAX,1953!), grain, guns, flaming arrows, spears, orange peels, a baby’s bottom, and more.

The score by Carlo Savina has an epic full orchestral feel, mixed with harmonica, a la Ennio Morricone. Savina is best known for his score for Mario Bava’s  Lisa e il diavolo /  LISA & THE DEVIL (1973).

Spanish cinematographer (the film it seems was lensed in Spain) Fernando Arribas had shot films like THE BLOOD SPLATTERED BRIDE (1972) to the arthouse “La casa de Bernarda Alba”/THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA (1987). Thanks to MVD’s restoration, the color and brightness is restored so we can truly appreciate his cinematography.    The film does have some speckling, including certain spots that appear to be from the lens and transferred over to the negative image.

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The film is far from a classic but you must appreciate that this movie reignited, for better or worse, the 3-D craze of the 1980s.

*-The screams heard in the bat sequence supposedly were lifted from the English dub track of Dario Argento’s INFERNO (1980)

“WARNING: The Management Is Not Responsible For Where The Screen Ends And You Begin!”.  (tagline on one of the film’s posters)

-Kevin G Shinnick

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