In London, sculptor Ivan Igor struggles in vain to prevent his partner Worth from burning his wax museum...and his 'children.' Years later, Igor starts a new museum in New York, but his maimed hands confine him to directing lesser artists. People begin disappearing (including a corpse from the morgue); Igor takes a sinister interest in Charlotte Duncan, fiancée of his assistant Ralph, but arouses the suspicions of Charlotte's roommate, wisecracking reporter Florence. Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This film was produced before the Production Code. When it was re-made only 20 years later, as House of Wax (1953), all references to drug use were removed and a character was changed from a junkie to an alcoholic. See more »
Early in the movie, the shadow of the camera is visible on the road as the man crosses the street, and then again when Charlotte walks into the police station, this time on the backs of chairs and on the table. See more »
[talking about a case]
Can I handle this my way?
You cannot, I'm still editor of this newspaper.
Fine, you said I was fired... well, I quit, you give the assignment to somebody else.
Wait a minute, come here.
No, I'm through.
Come here, sob sister, all right, go ahead, do it your own way.
See more »
This film, which was remade as "House Of Wax" 20 years later (as if you didn't know), might not enjoy quite the reputation it does today had it not been the basis for the better-known later film and, more importantly, believed lost for over 30 years, which made it something of a legend for many people who'd never even seen it. Legendary status can be rather difficult to live up to, and unless a viewer is approaching it with no advance knowledge of its history, MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM may not be quite what one expects.
It is, nevertheless, an energetic and entertaining amalgam of genres: horror film meets newspaper crime drama. Dropping a rather Gothic tale of body-snatching, a mad sculptor and a museum of wax-covered corpses into the streamline-moderne milieu of fast-talking, wise-cracking reporters on the trail of a hot story makes for interesting contrasts.
Lionel Atwill, as Ivan Igor, the artist driven to insanity and murder by the destruction of his wax "children" in an arson fire, was an immensely enjoyable performer whose best work came a bit later (see "Son Of Frankenstein" for his portrayal of the one-armed Insp. Krogh). His natural screen presence carries him through, though he never quite generates either the pathos or the smooth menace that Vincent Price displayed in the remake. But from the moment of her entrance, it's Glenda Farrell as Florence Dempsey, the reporter out to save her job by bringing in a scoop - barreling onto the screen with a full head of steam - who propels the story all the way to its finish.
There's an awful lot going on here beyond the basic premise; bootlegging, a "dope fiend," a suicide and a falsely implicated millionaire playboy are thrown into the mix, packing quite a lot into the 77 minute running time (the remake improved the story by eliminating extraneous characters and subplots). A pre-"King Kong" Fay Wray (in her naturally red hair sans the "Kong" blond wig) is the damsel in actual distress, but despite her billing, she's basically a supporting player and has little to do - beyond enduring roommate Florence's snide comments about her penniless boyfriend - until the climactic confrontation between all the bad guys and good guys (and girls).
MYSTERY is well-served by the direction of Michael Curtiz ("Adventures Of Robin Hood," "Casablanca"), who was something of a jack-of-all-genres, and there's plenty of snappy dialogue, some of which (Florence asking a cop, "How's your sex life?") wouldn't have made it to the screen a year later under the newly re-written Production Code. Depending on one's point of view, it could be said that the very effective production design either benefits, or suffers, from the pale pastels of the two-strip Technicolor photography. For my part, I'm guessing that the subdued tones we see today result from the lack of first-rate film elements available. Having seen far superior two-strip from years earlier, I'll wager that the original prints were much more vivid.
If you're any kind of a fan of the remake, you do owe it to yourself to see this one, if only once. There are many things to enjoy in MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM, not the least of which are the fabulous ensembles worn by Farrell. Just how does a newspaper reporter one step away from the breadline afford a wardrobe like that?
32 of 35 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?