Saturday, October 2, 2010



Review by Brian McGovern

THE MAD MAGICIAN is Vincent Price at his deranged and diabolical best. After Warner Brothers created a hit with their 3-D production of HOUSE OF WAX Columbia Pictures decided to get in on the craze. They hired the writer from HOUSE OF WAX and brought back Price and his tortured-artist-turned-mad-man shtick in this 1954 3D horror classic.

Mr. Price stars as Don Gallico, a frustrated inventor of stage illusions. Gallico toils in the magic prop studio of the cruel Mr. Ormond (played by Donald Randolph) and dreams becoming famous as “The Great Gallico,” once he has perfects his masterpiece of magic, “The Buzz Saw Illusion.”

Gallico mounts a stage production to promote his new illusion. When Ormond sees the commercial potential of the buzz saw trick he shuts down the show on opening night with a court order. Gallico learns that his contract with Ormond gives him no right to his own inventions. We find out that not only has Ormond destroyed Gallico’s career, he’s also managed to steal his wife. Gallico flies into a rage. Greedy boss, vanquished dreams, jealous ex-lover plus buzz saw plus Vincent Price… I think you see where this is going. Cue the maniacal laughter.

After the mad magician dispatches Mr. Ormond via a real buzz saw blade he has two problems; what to do with the body and what to do with the head? Gallico disguises himself as Mr. Ormond and drags his victim’s body to a convenient pre-game bonfire just about to start only a short walk from the scene of the crime. Disguising the body to look like a straw-filled effigy of a rival sports team member, he’s cheered as he dumps the body in full view of a crowd. Since the crowd believes he is Mr. Ormond, Gallico believes he’s pulled off the perfect crime. Tah-da!

Now to dispatch with Ormond’s noggin, stashed safely away in a small satchel. Unfortunately Callico’s assistant drops by his studio and accidentally takes the satchel containing the head. Then she loses the bag in a cab. The cab driver gives the bag to a police officer and Gallico must race across the city to find the bag before anyone discovers what is inside.

Just when Gallico thinks he’s covered his tracks, his ex-wife (played by Eva Gabor) shows up searching for her husband, the very dead Mr. Ormond. She discovers Gallico’s crime so he dispatches his unfaithful lover in pure Vincent Price rage. So many bodies, so little time.

A rival magician named The Great Rinaldi appears, trying to steal another secret from Gallico. Rinaldi stole credit for the Buzz Saw Illusion and wants another trick. Gallico shows him his new Crematorium Illusion, up close. Rinaldi vanishes in a puff of smoke. And so it goes up to the formulaic finale.

In all, THE MAD MAGICIAN typifies the teenager targeted shock movie of the 1950’s. Full of plot holes, unbelievable coincidences and sophistic character motivations it’s a campy, fun and entertaining 74 minutes.


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