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.