THE MAD MAGICIAN (1954) / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: JOHN BRAHM / SCREENPLAY: CRANE WILBUR / STARRING: VINCENT PRICE, MARY MURPHY, EVA GABOR, PATRICK O’NEAL / RELEASE DATE: MARCH 30TH
The Mad Magician tells the story of Don Gallico (Price), magician, master of disguise and inventor of stage-effects that wow the late 19th century audiences that come to the shows of big stars like The Great Rinaldi. Gallico wants to take to the stage himself but is thwarted by the contract he has with businessman Ross Ormond that effectively means everything Gallico creates, Ormond owns and can sell off to the likes of Rinaldi to present as their own ideas. Events conspire to ensure Don snaps and a murderous campaign of revenge follows.
Made and released a year after Price’s first big horror hit, House of Wax, this was also presented in 3D. Directed with solid style by the reliable John Brahm, it’s an entertaining tale of frustrated ambition and homicidal rage. Although Price gives his usual committed performance, there’s less to it than Andre DeToth’s colourful classic and Gallico has little of Henry Jarrod’s melancholy tragedy in his backstory (he apparently didn’t read the contract he signed so maybe it’s actually on him). But that doesn’t stop The Mad Magician being a worthwhile part of Price’s villainous portfolio of characters and if you love the great man’s work, you’ll find much to enjoy here.
This new release from Powerhouse Films presents the film in fine form. A 2K restoration shows off the crisp black and white photography and is as clear and sharp as you could hope for and there’s both 3D and 2D versions. For extras, there’s a good selection that compliments the main feature. We start with a brand-new audio commentary from film historians Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby. Lyons and Rigby are both very knowledgeable and enthusiastic and the commentary ticks along like a conversation between two friends (that’s a compliment). There’s an appreciation of the 3D boom of the 1950s from cinematographer Frank Passingham as well as a Super 8 version of the film. Two short films from the Three Stooges are also presented in 2D and 3D and there’s a standard set of imagery gallery and trailer. The limited edition first run of this Blu-ray also includes a booklet with essays (including one from Kat Ellinger) and guides to the promotional material and critical responses to the film at the time it was released.
For a Price film that isn’t frequently discussed when talk turns to his horror output, this is a rounded and thoughtful package and comes recommended, and if you’re a fan of Vincent then consider it an essential addition to your collection.