23 January 2010 | Bunuel1976
THE MAD MAGICIAN (John Brahm, 1954) ***
Vincent Price's follow-up to HOUSE OF WAX (1953), the film which cemented his reputation as a horror icon, similarly revolves around a bitter – albeit resourceful – showman. Though a remake, the former (shot in Technicolor) remains the superior effort; that said, apart from some resistible comic relief, the obligatory resort to cheap gimmickry (it was another 3-D showcase) and occasional narrative shortcomings (whatever happened to the missing bag which supposedly turned up at some police station containing a severed head?), this offers more than enough Grand Guignol-type thrills and overall camp value (Price hamming it up in a variety of disguises as an inventor of illusions impersonating 'missing' star conjurers who had taken advantage of his genius) to stand on its own two feet. Incidentally, director Brahm's involvement here proves no mere coincidence – since the narrative incorporates elements from two horror titles (both starring Laird Cregar) he had previously helmed i.e. THE LODGER (1944) and HANGOVER SQUARE (1945). The young leads are played by Mary Murphy (as Price's ingénue assistant) and Patrick O'Neal (as her police detective boyfriend – curiously enough, he would himself take the lead in a similar piece, CHAMBER OF HORRORS , which I have acquired just in time to serve as an encore to this one). An interesting sideline here is the latter's adoption of a novel detection technique, fingerprinting, which is crucial in bringing about Price's downfall (in a predictable but rather awkward fiery climax)
though the persistent snooping of his amateur crime novelist landlady has at least as much to do with it in the long run! Watching the star in a made-to-measure role, the film emerges a good deal of fun – particularly at a compact 73 minutes.