The disappearance of people and corpses leads a reporter to a wax museum and a sinister sculptor.The disappearance of people and corpses leads a reporter to a wax museum and a sinister sculptor.The disappearance of people and corpses leads a reporter to a wax museum and a sinister sculptor.
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?
- May 27, 2005