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/
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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 ?
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.
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).
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?) .
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.
Master 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.
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 Randal’s 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)
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.
-The Original Trailer. Lots of Ballyhoo (That” House of Wax” Man).
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!