I’ve never been a fan of 3D. It doesn’t do anything for me, no matter how much Martin Scorsese claims Hugo is better in the format or James Cameron trumpets advances in the technology for Avatar and its sequels.
The fact that I found Avatar about as exciting as being poked in the eye with one of those vines in Cameron’s CGI rainforests probably didn’t help. If the story isn’t up to much then having to effectively wear sunglasses to dull the image isn’t going to impress me.
All that changed in March (yes, it’s taken me a while to get around to this post) when I sat down to enjoy a 3D spectacular from 1954 at my local indie cinema, Edinburgh’s Filmhouse. It was a film which had the audience laughing at the ridiculousness of the plot and the perfectly pitched performance of its leading man.
The Mad Magician stars Vincent Price as Gallico the Great, the inventor of elaborate stage tricks for magicians who decides he wants to become a performer himself. Gallico is about to debut his new buzz saw act when he’s forced to stop by Ross Ormond (Donald Randolph), who Gallico has an unfortunate agreement with regarding ownership of his tricks.
Gallico isn’t too fond of Ormond for other reasons, mainly that he stole his wife from him, so this latest slight tips him over the edge and our “hero” ends up using the saw on Ormond.
From here, Gallico is forced to cover his tracks in various gruesome ways as he attempts to forge a stage career for himself.
The plot may be pretty thin but Crane Wilbur’s witty script is brought to life by Price, who once again manages to walk the fine line between sanity and lunacy where many of his characters seem to dwell. Admittedly most of those characters end up in the latter camp, but it’s always a joy watching Price teeter on the brink.
This newly restored version of the film looked sharp in black and white, with the 3D reduced to some gimmicky moments of water being sprayed at the audience, a saw spinning towards the screen and other “terrifying” moments which caused more laughter than scares.
Still, it’s the best use of 3D I’ve seen in a long time – 2010’s How to Train Your Dragon is perhaps the only time I’ve really found the 3D actually effective – and I’d happily sit and watch classic movies like this with specs on. It also helps that it’s in black and white, meaning the dull nature of 3D is offset somewhat.
I see there’s now a restored version of Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder (1954) returning to cinemas in 3D. I’ll be looking out for this at Filmhouse.