30 October 2014

The Mad Magician (1954)
72 min.
Directed by John Brahm.
With Vincent Price, Mary Murphy, Eva Gabor, John Emery, Donald Randolph, Lenita Lane, Patrick O'Neal, Jay Novello.
Following his genre-defining turn as Professor Henry Jarrod in André De Toth's blockbuster smash hit House of Wax (1953), Vincent Price starred in the enjoyable - and quite spunky horror flick - The Mad Magician (1954).

Price plays Gallico the Great, an illusionist who specializes in creating unique and often dangerous magic effects for the stage. Gallico has his sights on stardom, but his controlling manager Ormond (Randolph) has other plans.

Ormond wants to keep Gallico under his thumb, by using the poor creator's inventions as a vehicle for the already-established egotist, er, magician Rinaldi (Emery).

So what's a down-on-his-luck artist to do? Why, decapitate his tyrannical boss with a deadly buzzsaw, of course! Yup, Gallico offs the cold-hearted Ormond and then proceeds to dispose of the body.

However, revenge is never easy and seldom simple. Gallico then uses special makeups and a custom mask to impersonate Ormond, a perfect guise in which to strangle Ormond's greedy wife - and Gallico's ex lover! - Claire (Gabor).

Meanwhile, the meddlesome prima donna Rinaldi gets hip to Gallico's diabolical crimes and threatens to blackmail him unless he turns over his latest invention - a trick crematorium - to Rinaldi himself.

Think the show's over? Guess again. As fast as you can say "abracadabra," Gallico gives Rinaldi what's owed him...a trip straight to fiery Hades!

Can Gallico keep up the breakneck speed, the quick thinking, and clever disguises? Can he achieve stardom? Or will he be lucky to even keep himself alive? See The Mad Magician and find out yourself.

The first movie broadcast in 3D on television, this one loses absolutely none of its charm when shown in plain old two-dimensional style.

Here, Price is at the height of his game, delivering a tour de force trinity of performances as Gallico, Ormond and Rinaldi, respectively. Indeed, there's a fresh exuberance to Price's acting in The Mad Magician, particularly when he dons his disguise as Rinaldi and performs onstage.

And while Eva Gabor is frightfully underused as the money grubbing Claire, there's some reward taken in the fact that her death scene at the hands of Ormond/Gallico is one of the film's standout sequences.

Special kudos go also to Lenita Lane, who plays mystery author Alice Prentiss. Her spirited turn as a novice sleuth out to expose Gallico for the murderous psycho he truly is...well, she's terrific!

Nothing could compare with the prior year's House of Wax, to be sure. What's surprising is just how good this followup effort is. With Price unparalleled, and Gabor, Emery and Lane providing excellent support, bolstered by superb magic setups and pacing which trots along at a clip, Magician is one helluva fun ride.

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