The Mad Magician (1954)


(director: John Brahm; screenwriter: Crane Wilbur/story by Mr. Wilbur; cinematographer: Bert Glennon; editor: Grant Whytock; music: Art Lange/Emil Newman; cast: Mary Murphy (Karen Lee), Vincent Price (Don Gallico), Eva Gabor (Claire Ormond), Don Randolph (Ross Ormond), Patrick O’Neal (Lieutenant Alan Bruce), Lenita Lane (Alice Prentiss), John Emery (The Great Rinaldi), Jay Novello (Frank Prentiss); Runtime: 72; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Bryan Foy; Columbia Pictures; 1954)
A delightfully villainous Vincent.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

John Brahm’s (“The Lodger”) The Mad Magician was originally shown in 3-D. It’s a shocker thriller, with Vincent Price in one of his signature psychotic roles. This is Vincent’s follow up to his previous year’s House of Wax, which was much like that film in Grand Guignol theme but decidedly on a lower level and where Vincent had almost the identical role.

Vincent is Don Gallico, known in the trade as Gallico the Great, the magician inventor of magic tricks who aspires to be the star of his own show and who goes over the edge when the material he developed for his premiere has been legally stopped from being used by his rotten wealthy boss Ross Ormond (Randolph). He uses a court injunction to prevent Gallico from using the tricks that Gallico invented while in his employ. Ormond wants to use Gallico’s imaginative buzzsaw act for the famed magician Rinaldi (John Emery), a younger rival of Gallico’s. Gallico is already displeased with Ormond for stealing his sexy gold digger wife Claire (Eva Gabor), and now seeks revenge and decapitates his tormentor with the buzzsaw.

Ormond’s head is left backstage and gets mixed up with other bags and takes a mistaken trip with Gallico’s assistant Karen (Mary Murphy) and her detective boyfriend Alan Bruce (Patrick O’Neal), and has to be recovered by Gallico chasing after them in the street.

Gallico is forced to cover the crime by disguising himself as Ormond and rents an apartment with mystery author Alice Prentiss (Lenita Lane). He then disposes Ormond’s body — disguised as a dummy — by tossing it onto a bonfire during a football pep rally. But he must kill again when Claire sees through his Ormond disguise. The author identifies Ormond as her killer, which leaves Vincent temporarily in the clear. When the ambitious ratlike Rinaldi snoops around his studio and is set to steal Gallico’s latest trick invention, the crematorium illusion, Rinaldi becomes part of the act and disappears. Gallico now takes on the disguise of Rinaldi and steals his big-time magician’s show. But he is finally tracked down when the suspicious Bruce matches fingerprints from Rinaldi to those of Ormond. Meanwhile the curious author, realizing that the Ormond who stayed in her house was really Gallico, calls upon Karen and the detective for a Charlie Chan-like final confrontation.

It was cheesy fun with a delightfully villainous Vincent, but the whole act was too tawdry and incredible to be swallowed whole and the melodramatic plot points were too contrived and the demented scenario too hokey.