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 (Vincent Price), an inventor of stage magic effects who is about to launch his latest invention, the buzz saw,. But his ex-boss, Ormond (Donald Randolph), turns up and impounds all of his best tricks, as he holds the copyright for all of Gallico’s ideas. This makes the aspiring illusionist mad… But he gets even madder when The Great Rinaldi (John Emery) dares to steal another of his inventions, one that involves a fiery crematorium…
For his title role in this Grand Guignol chiller (released in 1954 in the US following its New York premiere on 19 May), Vincent Price swotted up on a dozen real magician’s tricks, and became quite accomplished at such things as making a stream of water run out of a sword, producing a girl from a flower pot, and making a man vanish through a wall (so says the publicity machine of the day).
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.
While shot in 3D (in black and white) 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.
It’s director, John Brahm, was also responsible for some genre favourites including 1942’s The Undying Monster and the Laird Cregar classics The Lodger (1944) and Hangover Square (1945), while the screenplay was by Crane Wilbur, who also penned House of Wax and another Vincent Price thriller, The Bat (1959).
The supporting cast is excellent, especially Lenita Lane, whose nosy mystery writer Alice Prentiss would prove to be Gallico’s undoing. Lane, who was married with Crane Wilbur, also appeared with Price in The Bat.
Patrick O’Neal, who’d go on to star in the House of Wax-inspired chiller Chamber of Horrors (which boasted the horror horn/fear flasher gimmick), makes his film debut as the detective, Alan Bruce, who uncovers Gallico’s vengeful crimes.
Eva Gabor, who play Gallico’s gold-digging ex wife Claire, insisted on wearing her own jewellery in the film, while Gallico’s grisly gadgets (the buzz saw and crematorium), which were credited to illusionist Bob Haskell, but were actually devised by magic inventor Merv Taylor.
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 O’Neal ended badly when the actor landed a real wooden table onto Price’s nose, which required plastic surgery to correct.
The Mad Magician is now available on Blu-ray, with a new 2k remaster, from Twilight in the US and Indicator in the UK (READ ABOUT IT HERE). Both releases present the film in both 3D and in 2D.
You can also watch it in full here…
Here’s a great treat from the film’s original publicity campaign. Print it off and cut it out to make a fab Halloween mask.