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Waxworks (1924)
"Das Wachsfigurenkabinett" (original title)

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The owner of a Waxmuseum needs for three of his models stories to be told to the audience. For that reason he has hired a writer, who after one look athe owner's pretty daughter, starts ... See full summary »

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Cast

Credited cast:
...
...
...
William Dieterle ...
The Poet / Assad the Baker / A Russian Prince (as Wilhelm Dieterle)
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Olga Belajeff ...
Eva-Maimune-Eine Bojarin
John Gottowt ...
Inhaber der Panoptikums
Georg John
Ernst Legal
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Storyline

The owner of a Waxmuseum needs for three of his models stories to be told to the audience. For that reason he has hired a writer, who after one look athe owner's pretty daughter, starts writing stories featuring the models, the daughter and himself. In the first, he is a baker, married to the girl, who is a little bit too much flirting with the customers, among them the wezir of sultan Harun Al-Rashid, who has just ordered his execution because the smell from the bakery is drifting to his palce, yet Harun Al-Rashid wants to meet the beautiful girl himself, while an angry baker is trying to get the Sultan's whishing ring to proof he's not a weakling... The second story is about Tzar Ivan the Terrible who likes watching people die together with his court-chemist. When he orders the execution of the chemist, the chemist thinks of a nice revanche, but till the revanche works, a nobleman is murdered, his daughter kidnapped by Ivan and her groom tortured. While writing the third story about... Written by Stephan Eichenberg <eichenbe@fak-cbg.tu-muenchen.de>

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Genres:

Fantasy | Horror

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Release Date:

February 1929 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Waxworks  »

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1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The "Harun al Raschid" episode reportedly inspired Douglas Fairbanks to make The Thief of Bagdad (1924) See more »

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Featured in The Story Behind 'The Man Who Laughs' (2003) See more »

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User Reviews

 
"Can you write startling tales about these wax figures?"
9 August 2008 | by (Australia) – See all my reviews

It's only when you begin to delve deeper into works of German Expressionism that you can appreciate how important and influential a film was 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920).' It demonstrated to filmmakers and audiences that cinema is an inherently artificial medium, and so, rather than striving for realism, films should emphasise the fake and fantastic elements of their story. Though Frenchman Georges Méliès had first struck on this idea at the turn of the twentieth century, it was Robert Wiene's creative horror film that established German Expressionism as the defining artistic style of the 1920s, securing post-War Germany as cinema's most prominent innovator and paving the way for directors F.W. Murnau, Fritz Lang and Paul Leni {each of whom were later coaxed to Hollywood to share their expertise}. The hand of 'Caligari' is evident throughout 'Das Wachsfigurenkabinett / Waxworks (1924),' a fantasy/horror that is framed around a young writer's attempt to concoct thrilling tales to accompany three carnival waxwork characters - Harun al Raschid, Ivan the Terrible and Jack the Ripper.

Three names come to mind more readily than most when one considers silent German actors: Conrad Veidt {'The Man Who Laughs (1928)'}, Werner Krauss {'Herr Tartüff (1925)'} and, of course, Emil Jannings {'Faust (1926)'}. It's no surprise that both Veidt and Krauss had achieved their stardom with 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' four years earlier, and the parallels between that film and 'Waxworks' stretch much further than the mere casting decisions. The film, co-directed by Paul Leni and Leo Birinsky, employs grossly-exaggerated art direction {the sets designed by Leni himself} and Helmar Lerski's imaginatively-warped cinematography to highlight the fantasy in each story, even though there are very few elements that would ordinarily be considered fantastic. Emil Jannings plays the rotund Harun al Raschid, the fifth Abbasid Caliph, with a loathsome repugnance that gradually gives way to a certain likability. When his intentions towards the beautiful Maimune (Olga Belajeff) are shown to be friendly rather than sexual, he becomes an affable and cartoonish oaf.

This segment is followed by the story of Ivan the Terrible (Conrad Veidt), who is driven to madness by the trickle of sand through an hour-glass, every falling grain bringing him closer to demise. Veidt plays the cruel Grand Prince of Moscow with a wide-eyed craziness that calls to mind the intense acting style of fellow-German Klaus Kinski. One of the earliest portrayals of Ivan the Terrible, this segment no doubt influenced Sergei Eisenstein when he directed 'Ivan the Terrible: Part I and II (1944).' The final story, definitely the scariest of the three, concerns Jack the Ripper – also referred to as the mythical Spring-Heeled Jack for some reason, perhaps due to a translation error. Though it barely runs for five minutes, I found my heart genuinely thumping as Jack (Werner Krauss) stalked through the dream-like haze of Luna Park, as the young writer (William Dieterle) and his girl (Olga Belajeff) flee from his multiple eerie shadows, every step leading them ever-so-closer to the cold glint of his knife.

The framing device around which 'Waxworks' revolves unavoidably leads to a distracting unevenness of tone, the atmosphere fluctuating between light-hearted comedy and gruelling horror. Also rather frustrating is the fact that Jannings' segment, while certainly entertaining at a satisfactory level, is afforded so much screen-time, and yet Krauss' Jack the Ripper killing-spree is wrapped up in a matter of minutes. Since a fourth character tale, about Rinaldo Rinaldini, was scrapped due to budget constraints, I suspect that funding also played a role in reducing the third act. However much of an oddity it might be, 'Waxworks' is nevertheless a visual marvel, and no shortage of imagination has been expended on the strange and exciting set and costume designs. The film certainly impressed studios in Hollywood, for director Paul Leni was subsequently lured to the United States to continue his career, after which he notably directed 'The Cat and the Canary (1927)' and 'The Man Who Laughs (1928),' before his premature death in 1929.


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