Twilight Time has released one of the movies that has been on my wish-list for years: 1954's The Mad Magician in 3-D. Created at the end of the 50's 3-D craze (it was Columbia's last 3-D feature) the movie hasn't received the love that it's more famous cousin, House of Wax (1953) has garnered, which is a shame. Presented in both 3-D and flat 2-D, this Vincent Price vehicle looks magnificent and includes a wonderful assortment of extras making this a must-buy title.
Warner Brothers' 1953 3-D movie House of Wax was a huge hit. It was one of the highest grossing films of the year and though is stared an actor whose career, at the time, seemed to have peaked. But audience's loved Vincent Price as a talented sculptor who takes revenge against those who had wronged him, and it wasn't surprising when he was cast in a similar role the following year.
1954's The Mad Magician had more than just the lead actor in common with House of Wax. Though it was made at Columbia, it shared the earlier movie's producer (Bryan Foy), screenwriter (Crane Wilbur), it had a very similar plot, and it was also in 3-D. One of the main differences was that it was filmed in black and white rather than color.
Set in the late 1800's the plot revolves around Don Gallico (Vincent Price) a very talented creator of illusions for magicians. He'd seen the tricks that he'd invent make others famous, so he decided to graduate to the stage and present his own magic show. The presentation he creates is quite interesting too: Gallico has created rubber face prosthetics and makeup techniques that allow him to appear as his rival magicians. Impersonating them flawlessly and presenting their most famous illusions, Gallico's show is going to be capped off by a fantastic new illusion that he invented. He is going to cut a woman's head off with a large buzz saw. Unfortunately, just before the curtain rises on his last act, his business partner, Ross Ormond (Donald Randolph), closes the show down. According to the contract he's signed, every illusion Gallico creates is the property of Ormond, even if he did it on his own time.
His show cancelled along with a potential new career, a gloating Ormond arrives at Gallico's shop the next day and sells his great new illusion to The Great Rinaldi (John Emery), a magician Don had impersonated the previous evening. After the humiliating sale, Ormond goes on to push Gallico's buttons by insulting the inventor's ex-wife, a lady that Ormond is currently married to. There's only so much a man can take however, and the outrages Gallico uses his newest illusion to kill his partner. Then, utilizing his gift for mimicry, Gallico impersonates the older rich man so that no one knows he's dead, until he can find a way to dispose of the body. Things never go quite as one plans (in movies like this at least) and Gallico finds that he has to kill again to protect his secret. And again… and again…
Directed by John Brahm (The Lodger, and Hangover Square) this movie comes off wonderfully. Brahm gives the movie a dark feel, and though all of the murders occur off camera, his astute direction produces the desired atmosphere of horror. Vincent Price does a magnificent job as the wronged Gallico, and it isn't surprising that he's now known as a horror star given menacing size and his ability to make a psychopathic murderer seem pity tragic.
Screening this movie in 3-D is a real treat. Having previously seen the flat version, it's easy to pick out the shots that were included just for the 3-D effects: a man spinning yo-yos into the camera, water sprayed out into the audience, and the like. The thing you can't tell from the 2-D print and that really makes the movie fun to watch is the immersive feeling of the other scenes. The picture has an extreme amount of depth throughout. There are objects subtly placed in the foreground to create an immersive feel and just about all of the scenes really make use of the 3-D technology to give the appearance of distance between the front of the image and the back. The techniques work wonderfully and make the film much more appealing that the flat version.
This release includes both the 3-D and 2-D versions of The Mad Magician on a single disc.
Like Twilight Times other 3-D releases, this film looks spectacular. The 1.85:1 black and white image was quite impressive for both the 3-D and 2-D versions. There is a natural amount of grain and the image is crisp and clear. There is a nice amount of detail and dirt, scratches, and other common picture errors are not present. Fans will be very pleased with the image.
This disc arrives with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono mix that fits the movie well. There are no audio defects that one might expect with a film of this age, no hiss, dropouts, or flutter, and the dialog and music come through loud and clear.
Twilight Time has included a lot of great extras on this release. First up in a commentary track with film historians David Del Valle and Steven Peros. I really enjoy commentaries with film buffs and this one is quite engaging. The pair discuss the careers of all of the actors as well as the talent behind the camera, talk about 50's 3-D movies and this film's placement in that cycle, and even get around to talking about how the film came to be. It's a great listen.
The featurette, Master of Fright: Conjuring The Mad Magician is a great 20-minute overview of the film and 50's horror flick. The main attractions for the video extras however are the two shorts. Included on this disc are the two Three Stooges shorts that were filmed in 3-D, Pardon My Backfire and Spooks! It's great to have these two films in 3-D in one place and they make this a must-buy Blu-ray.
The on-disc extras are rounded out with an isolated music track and the original theatrical trailer. There is also a nice booklet packed in with the disc that has an essay by Julie Kirgo.
This is a great release. Not only does it have a very good Vincent Price thriller in 3-D, but the two Three Stooges 3-D shorts are included. The image and sound quality are both top notch too. This is a must-buy. Highly Recommended.