STRANGE INFLUENCES: A Resource of Ideas, Characters & Campaigns

"The Mad Magician"


"The Mad Magician" 1954

In this 3D feature the great Vincent Price stars as a vengeance minded crafter of stage magic tricks who has had his dreams of appearing on stage as "Gallico the Great" quashed by a greedy employer.

The set up is little more than a retread of Price's film from the previous year, the rightly remembered (and much superior) "House of Wax".

There isn't much to recommend this movie, even Price doesn't seem to be into it never really flowing into his gleeful-maniacal classic baddie persona.

The concept of Gallico as master of masks & mimicry is an interesting one that doesn't come to fruition until the 1990 film "Darkman".

Most of the secondary characters are unremarkable (and the presence of Eva Gabor in the cast should be a warning to any possible audience that you may want to steer clear). For instance, other than his forward thinking regarding fringerprints, Lt Alan Bruce my be one of the least interesting Victorian era detectives on film.

On the other hand crime novelist/landlady Alice Prentiss and her milquetoast but enthusiastic husband Frank add all the humor and color that can be found in "The Mad Magician" and easily steal the show. I found myself wishing that the movie had focused on them, heck I would have enjoyed a *series* of films about these folks stumbling into horrible crimes.

Historical side note: The setting for the film is New York in the 1890s. Mr Prentiss makes mention of a recent axe murder in "Fall River" that was in his newspaper. Clearly this is a reference to the Lizzie Borden case, so we can pinpoint the year to 1892. As such Lt Bruce can take credit for introducing fingerprinting to the NYPD a full decade before it was actually adopted.

That all being said the basic set up for the main character is a great one for a game villain or anti-hero....

Don Gallico, "Gallico the Great"
Gallico is a classic character: the artist driven by a desire for revenge. He's good looking, cultured, artistic, well spoken and strangely reserved throughout his killing spree. It's this understated quality that sets him apart from most revenge killers: he's neither a cackling lunatic nor stone-faced sociopath. The GM should play this up, keep him likable and *understandable*.

His background as a creator of stage magic spectacles is rife with possibilities. Going big and flash with the Deadly Devices would contrast nicely with Gallico's personable demeanor.

If you need some ideas for this talented impressionist and mask maker feel free to check out one of Vincent's great films: Theatre of Blood. That film's Edward Lionheart is clearly more crazed than Gallico but they share a theatrical flare. (... and then there's Dr Phibes....)

Don't be afraid to bring Gallico back from the dead, especially if he was "killed" in one of his own gizmos, they are magic tricks after all! And he could return years later, long after his tormentos to be have grown complacent and unmindful. Or he could actually have been hiding in plain sight for as long as the game needs. Perhaps he truly perfected his impersonation of another famous magician only to unmask himself at just the right time... of course this would result in a trail of bodies if anybody gets close to the truth.

Some thoughts on building Gallico the Great and the other characters from The Mad Magician for your game:

Gallico the Great
Gallico is a Master Stage Magic Technician and clearly has a solid grasp of Engineering. Though his career on the stage is tragically brief he is shown to be a Talented Magician as well. The traits that allow him to get his kills in are Impersonation and Vocal Mimicry. As the technique for creating his masks is known only to him, he must also have some level of Chemistry. While he is handsome and cultured his main cover is that he's remarkably Unassuming.
As the story shows Don is Driven by Vengeance, he'll kill those who wronged him and kill anyone else necessary to cover up his crimes. He's also Proud, he's convinced that he's an amazing magician and can't live with having his dreams dashed. He's also too Proud to just vanish after the first few murders.

Karen Lee
Ms Lee is a famulus (magician's assistant) and she's pretty, but beyond that she's just a sketch of a character. Thus she's a great person to be replaced by a dramatis personae prepared by one of the Players!
Very Attractive, Trained Magician's Assistant, Limber

Ross Ormond
Gallico's boss is victim fodder: he's arrogant,rich and only wants Don in his shop churning out props for real magicians. Did I mention that he stole Don's wife? He stole Don's wife.
Arrogant, Callous

Claire Ormond
Ross' current wife and *Don's ex-wife*. Her whole character seems to be She Likes Money.
Attractive, Plays Men Like a Fiddle
Gold Digger, Selfish, Shallow, No Longer in He Prime

The Great Rinaldi
Rinaldi (we never get more of a name for him) is a skilled and well regarded stage magician. He's another good one for a player to flesh-out into someone with depth.
Skilled Stage Magician, Famous, Comfortably Off
Full of Himself

Lt Alan Bruce
Even though Bruce saves the day he's still not much more than a handsome policeman. His enthusiasm for fingerprinting does hint that there could be more to the good Lieutenant (if handled by the right Player).
Handsome, Law Enforcement Powers, Patron: New York City Police, Forward Thinking
Dangerous Job

Alice Prentiss
Alice and her husband Frank steal this film (not an easy task in a movie featuring Vincent Price!). Alice is a crime authoress and a minor force of nature. She is, by far, the best detective in the film. She clearly loves Frank even if she henpecks him a bit.
Observant, Criminologist, Author, Ally: Husband- Frank Prentiss
She could easily be played as Overbearing

Frank Prentiss
Alice's doting husband is the film's comic relief. He loves his domineering wife and will readily condescend to any plan she proposes.
Stalwart, Ally: Wife- Alice Prentiss. (Considering their relationship Alice may even count more as a Patron!)
While he's a Little Wacky make sure he's not played as Stupid, he's just not as bright as his beloved spouse (he's the Watson to her Holmes).

Story Seeds:

"The Legend of Gallico the Great"
It's been years since the events of the film, long enough for the tale to move into legend. Now magicians are being killed, on stage, in their own apparatuses! Rumor begins to fly and the name of Gallico is whispered with dread! Has the murderous mage returned? If so why now?
This story would allow the Players to bring back some of the characters from the movie, but with more depth. What's happened to the young lovebirds Karen and Alan? Are the in the midst of wedded bliss or did something tear them apart and now they must face a deadly criminal and their unresolved feelings? Has Alan moved up in the police force or was he pushed out because of his advocacy of novel detection methods?
And what of the Prentisses? Perhaps Alice turned the tale of the Mad Magician into a best selling book, but since has found her well of ideas run dry. Another encounter with Gallico may be just what she needs.

"A Performance of Questionable Taste"
A young, brash magician wants to stage a show recreating Gallico's infamous death traps replete with lurid narration expounding on the grisly details of the crimes. Is this youth just a gifted but audacious showman or is he an acolyte of some mysterious mentor?

"The Illusionist's Duel"
Two magicians trade barbs and volleys of increasingly dangerous stunts. Few are truly shocked with the feud turns personal, then bloody. Why would two former friends turn on each other with such viscousness, and how does the charming prop builder who's worked for both of them in the past fit into the picture? (You should watch the amazing film "The Prestige" for inspiration).

"The Fraud"
Magnus the Magnificent is an undisputed champion of illusions on stage and a charismatic media darling off. Would the world believe that he's a fraud? That not only does the polite and mild mannered Don Gallico create all the illusions but he dons a mask and costume to PERFORM THEM ONSTAGE! It's "Remington Steele" dressed up in Gay 90's garb. Trouble begins to arise when Magnus thinks he can go off with out Don, or when Don begins to have trouble telling reality from fiction. And Heaven help anyone fool enough to threaten their collaborative mirage.
This story is all about doubting who the killer is and why. Feel free to pull out *several* unmasking scenes. Is Don Magnus? Is Magnus Don? Is this all a clever smoke screen for something even more sinister than a few murders?


The Abominable Dr. Phibes:

Lizzie Borden:



House of Wax:

The Prestige:

Remington Steele:

Theatre of Blood: