On the heels of his outstanding success with the 1953 3-D horror film House of Wax, Vincent Price would be heretofore known primarily as a giant of this film genre. That may have been unfair to Price, who was an outstanding actor able to play diverse roles in diverse films, but it did cement his stature as a Hollywood legend. The studios immediately wanted to capitalize on this new horror star and Columbia quickly signed Price to star in The Mad Magician, which was also presented in the short-lived 3-D process. The film has none of the production values of House of Wax: it was shot in B&W and, aside from an establishing opening scene, every sequence in the movie was (very obviously) shot in a studio. The plot finds Price in what would become a familiar scenario for his characters: a likable, honorable man driven to madness and murder by the unscrupulous people in his life who have betrayed him. The story is set in the early 1900's (people have telephones, but still travel via horse and buggy). Price is Don Gallico, as aspiring magician who is frustrated by the fact that he creates all of the amazing tricks and hardware that other magicians then utilize to gain fame and fortune. He decides to perform on stage with his own inventions under the name of Gallico the Great (okay, so he doesn't get an "A" for creativity when it comes to marketing). As he about to utilize his most ambitious achievement- the"beheading" of his lovely assistant Karen (Mary Murphy) via a buzz saw device, the show is abruptly closed down. Gallico's employer has received an injunction based on an obscure point in a contract that states that any and all inventions belong to the company, not Gallico. The situation deteriorates further when Gallico learns that his great achievement is to be given to a rival magician (John Emery), who he despises. Gallico ends up murdering his employer and enacting an outlandish scheme in which he adopts his identity, using skillful makeup. (In actuality, the film's makeup team's achievements are indeed impressive.) Soon, things begin to go wrong even as Gallico, now free to perform on stage, is finding enthusiasm for his shows. Matters become even more complicated when his floozy, ex-wife (Eva Gabor), who had married his employer, reappears on the scene and threatens to reveal his scheme.
The Mad Magician is a modest but fun film that would resonate even greater today if Columbia had afforded the production something other than threadbare production values. The performances are all enjoyable (including young Patrick O'Neal as the romantic lead) and the sheer predictability of the events that unfold add to its many pleasures. Primarily, of course, there is Price, who would continue to dominate the screen in every role, making so many minor films such as this highly entertaining experiences.
Sony has released The Mad Magician as burn-to-order DVD title. Quality is excellent. There are no extras.
I walked out of the New York cinema in 1983 after viewing Koyaanisqatsi for the first time, I overheard someone say, “That
was the trippiest movie since 2001.”I had to agree.I’d never seen anything like it, but it was a
feast for the eyes and ears.I’d been
mesmerized for 86 minutes, lost in a swirling and exhilarating journey through
North American landscapes of deserts, canyons, skies, and big cities.Using slow motion and time lapse photography
by Ron Fricke, director Godfrey Reggio presented a feature-length music video
that defied categorization.Accompanied
by the vibrant score by Philip Glass, the film seemed to be saying that man was
screwing up nature and that we’d better watch out.Life was “out of balance,” as the Hopi Indian
one-word-title of the movie meant.Koyaanisqatsi was one of the most moving
cinematic experiences I’d encountered.
(Image courtesy of Criterion.)
sequels followed—Powaqqatsi (1988)
and Naqoyqatsi (2002)—produced in the
same non-verbal style but with successively more challenging thematic
content.Powaqqatsi concentrated on the Southern Hemisphere and third world
countries, emphasizing how the more “modern” parts of the world fed upon the
poorer and harder-working civilizations.Naqoyqatsi went deep into the
computer, re-imagining the globe’s landscapes, people, and especially armies
into digitally-altered and enhanced imagery that suggested we’ve become an artificial
mechanization of our former selves.While
powerful in their own right and certainly worthwhile, it is Koyaanisqatsi that will always be the
ground-breaking piece of the trilogy, as well as the most effective.
(Image courtesy of Criterion.)
the deluxe Blu-ray treatment by the Criterion Collection, all three films are
presented in new restored digital transfers, approved by director Reggio, with
5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks.The results are amazing.Each of
the three disks also comes with an abundance of extras—vintage and current
interviews with key creative personnel; an early demo of Koyaanisqatsi shot in the 70s with music by Allen Ginsberg; Reggio’s
rare 30-minute short Anima Mundi, with
music by Glass; a thick booklet of essays, and more.
Wow.Turn out the lights, get comfortable, and
trip out.The Qatsi Trilogy will change your life, man.