The Mad Magician (1954)
Equal parts House of Wax, The Lodger and Hangover Square, this adds up to another opportunity for Vincent Price to lose his sanity and wreak havoc on those who do him wrong. Like his triumphant House of Wax, this thriller was also released in the 3D format during it’s initial craze.
“I guess I’m just a ham at heart.”
One has to love a line like that when it’s spoken by Vincent Price. An actor who has been accused of slicing out more then his fair share of hammy performances over the years. All rather enjoyable I’d like to add thanks to Vincent looking like he’s having as much fun acting them as we are watching..
For this short 73 minute black and white feature by way of Columbia and director John Brahm, Price is the creator of magic tricks and electrifying escape routines who longs to be the star magician on stage. Unfortunately he works for Donald Randolph who he has signed a contract with. Randolph owns every device that Price creates including the “Buzz Saw trick.” On top of that he also stole away Vincent’s wife Eva Gabor who had a taste for fine dining and the kind of living Price couldn’t afford to give her on his paltry salary.
Vincent’s sanity is pushed to the limit when Randolph shuts down Vincent’s stage debut with a legal document stating he owns all the tricks and gadgetry Price has in his show. It won’t be long before Price shows him the improper way to operate the Buzz Saw trick.
In true Hangover Square fashion and taking a page from Laird Cregar, Price unloads the body and then just as if he’s Cregar in The Lodger, secures a room at the home of Jay Novello and Lenita Lane. Price assumes the identity of the dead man by using some of the masks from his magic act.
Mary Murphy and Patrick O’Neal also star here opposite Vincent. She as a young lady who assists in magic acts while her suitor, O’Neal works for the local police department. He is of course trying to find the missing Randolph whose off screen severed head gave the viewing audience’s imagination some thrilling moments of nearly being found in Murphy’s possession. O’Neal is an intrepid investigator flirting with the early use of finger prints at the turn of the century. These will help him to realize that more then one character seems to have the same set of prints.
Short as the film is, it gives Vincent plenty of opportunity to go over the top at various points when the urge to kill strikes him. It’ll all culminate in his latest magical creation, The Crematorium. Don’t be surprised if Price once again perishes at the fade out by the same tragedy that claimed many of his characters throughout his years as a top horror star.
Easy to watch for Price fans and obvious in it’s borrowing of the other film’s I’ve mentioned here. While it’s nowhere near as memorable as any of those other titles, it’s never a waste of time to see Price do his thing in the horror genre. House of Wax was a major success in his career that really marked him as a horror star moving forward despite flirting with the genre as far back as 1940’s The Invisible Man Returns. This title served as the first follow up attempt to capitalize on his newfound horror film notoriety.
As I like to shine the light on the character actors, how about Jay Novello as his Landlord. Jay seemed to turn up in practically every rerun of sixties TV shows I’d catch as a kid growing up in the late seventies and eighties. I still get a kick out of his appearance on The Andy Griffith Show as a shady lawyer playing scenes with Howard McNear’s hilarious Floyd the Barber and town drunk, Otis Campbell (Hal Smith).
Thankfully The Mad Magician turned up recently as part of a four pack of horror titles for us Vincent Price collectors. So next time you have an easy hour plus ten to fill, give it a go.