Saturday morning at the movies.
Once more through the check-list: Buttered popcorn; Sugary soda; Box of candy; Squirt gun, fully loaded and ready for action.
Let the kiddie matinee begin.
On today’s bill, a couple of—Shemp era—Three Stooges shorts (Pardon My Backfire, and Spooks) warm-up for our main attraction: The Mad Magician, an unadulterated bit of celluloid kitsch from 1954, starring horror movie schlockmeister Vincent Price (The Abominable Dr. Phibes).
Price plays Don Gallico, a nervous and hard working man who’s been toiling for years behind the scenes, designing and building props for other people’s magic acts. That’s all about to change, as he prepares his most jaw-dropping stage effect yet: a giant buzz-saw that will appear to behead his pretty little assistant, Karen Lee (Mary Murphy, The Wild One) during the climax of his debut stage performance in the guise of Gallico the Great, magician extraordinary!
Or so he thought, until his longtime employer, Ross Ormond (Donald Randolph, Topaz) arrives with a court injunction to stop the show before it opens. It seems that poor Don never paid attention to the fine print on his contract, which states that any and all of his inventions developed while under Ormond’s employ are technically the property of said employer, who in this case determines that the best person to present this latest show-stopper is not some mousey, shadow-trolling technician—like Don—but rather an internationally renowned crowd pleaser, on the order the Great Rinaldi (John Emery, Spellbound).
Hey, tough break, but that’s showbiz, right?
Big mistake. For poor Don, who’s been taking it on the chin—one way or another—for too long, this is the final straw. Something inside him has snapped and Don’s getting angry; murderously angry.
Take cover, kids. Just as Don’s coming unglued, you’ll notice that the action onscreen seems to be headed straight for you, and it is—in 3D, no less!
Actually, those funsters at Twilight Time generously present this Blu-ray transfer of The Mad Magician in both 3D and 2D versions, so those with standard home theater appliances can also get in on the act, should they desire. Truth be told, these 1.78:1/1080p transfers suffer from occasional softness and look a bit flat, as well—no pun intended. Given the film’s B-movie origins, I suspect that this is largely due to the source material, as opposed to any negligence on TT’s part. Don’t get me wrong: it’s eminently watchable, and the few comin’-right-atcha moments work just as they’re supposed to, but a James Cameron caliber production this is not. The DTS-HD Master Audio holds its end up well enough, but should you require them, English subtitles are available.
Bonus features include “Master of Fright!: Conjuring The Mad Magician”, a twenty minute featurette on the production’s genesis, and two audio-only options: an isolated music track and an enthusiastic audio commentary track by Steven Peros and David Del Valle. There’s also a look at the theatrical trailer, and as usual, Twilight Time scribe Julie Kirgo has penned a thoughtful essay, included in the set’s photo-illustrated booklet.
Act now: this Twilight Time release has a limited run of 3,000 copies. Kids, get your parent’s permission.
As I mentioned earlier, the program also contains a pair of Three Stooges shorts, each about sixteen minutes long. What can I say about them? They’re more or less the same as every other Three Stooges short, but with two distinguishing features: they each feature some 3-D gimmickry and they each feature Shemp—how much value this adds to (or detracts from) the experience is something everyone must decide for him or herself.
Is The Mad Magician actually any good? It’s terrible, in fact. That said, I’ve never been able to resist Vincent Price at his hammiest, and thus, I thoroughly enjoyed every unintentionally hilarious minute of this extremely slight (a mere 72 minutes, in fact) cinematic underachievement.
Definitely not recommended for mature audiences.
[box title=”Tech Specs” icon=”legal” icon_style=”border” icon_shape=”circle” align=”center”] The Mad Magician (Bluray) Twilight Time, 72 minutes, Not Rated (1954) VIDEO: 1.78:1, 1080p AUDIO: DTS HD 1.0 Master Audio (English) SUBTITLES: English SDH EXTRAS: Audio Commentary, Booklet, Bonus Short Films, Featurette, Isolated Music Track, Trailer ACCOMPLICES: IMDB [/box]