In France, an insane surgeon's obsession with an actress from England leads him to replace her pianist husband's hands that got mangled in an accident with the hands of a late knife murderer which still have the urge to throw knives.
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>
The shot of the 'monster' lifting up the sheet in the morgue was, along with many other Warner Bros. films of the early 1930s, incorporated into the opening credits of their 1974 musical MAME. 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 »
Listen, Joan Gale's body was swiped from the morgue, have you ever heard of such a thing as a death mask?
I used to be married to one.
Then it came to life and divorced you, I know all about that.
See more »
MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (Warner Brothers, 1933), reunites director Michael Curtiz with his DOCTOR X (First National, 1932) co-stars, Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray, in another two-strip Technicolor horror/comedy mystery. A carbon copy of DOCTOR X with a few alterations and improvements thrown in, it ranks the finest and most noteworthy of the Atwill-Fay collaborations (1933's THE VAMPIRE BAT for Majestic was their second), as well as the most eerie and mysterious of them all. While Atwill and Wray had equal status in their initial two outings, Atwill this time dominates while Wray, interestingly, has little to do, not making her screen presence until 30 minutes from the opening titles. She's gone for long stretches and is not visible in the fade-out while Glenda Farrell, the secondary female character, comes close to being the lead, or so it appears. Regardless of Wray's limitations, her character is quite crucial to the story and to Atwill's mentally unbalanced character.
Opening with a prologue set in 1921 London introduces Ivan Igor (Lionel Atwill) as a brilliant sculptor of wax figures of noteworthy figures as Joan of Arc, Jack the Ripper, Disraeli, and his most favorite, Marie Antoinette, hoping for his museum to become successful once it opens to the public. Because he's invested more money than anticipated, Joe Worth (Edwin Maxwell), his partner whom he owes back salary, comes upon a plan to get back some of his investment by burning down the museum and collect on the fire insurance. A fight ensues between the two partners, with Worth breaking away, locking Igor inside the museum surrounded by flames where he's left to burn along with his wax figures. Move forward, New Year's Eve, 1933, in New York City. Ivan, who has survived the burning flames, is wheelchair bound. Unable to recreate his wax figures due to his severely burned hands, he hires assistants, Ralph (Allen Vincent); D'Arcy (Arthur Edmund Carewe) and Hugo (Matthew Betz) to sculpt wax figures for him under his supervision. Successfully reproducing his original creations, Igor is unable to do the same with Marie Antoinette, that is, until he meets her replica, Charlotte Duncan (Fay Wray), Ralph's fiancée. In the meantime, a series of murders have taken place with bodies mysteriously disappearing from the morgue from some figure in a cloak. Millionaire playboy Harold Ritten (Gavin Gordon), who happened to be with Joan Gale on the night of her murder, is suspected and jailed. Florence Parks (Glenda Farrell), Charlotte's roommate and gal reporter for the New York Express, is assigned by her editor (Frank McHugh) to investigate. Following her interview with Harold leading to her constant snooping around Igor's 14th Street wax museum, she discovers something quite startling in connection to the murder, hence "the mystery of the wax museum."
If the story sounds at all familiar, it was reworked more famously as HOUSE OF WAX (Warners, 1954) starring Vincent Price in the Atwill role. Due to the popularity of the remake, the original from which it was based, was virtually unknown, especially since no prints of MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM have survived. Fortunately, an original print was discovered, according to sources, in Jack L. Warner's private vault around the late 1960s. WAX MUSEUM finally turned up on commercial television, notably on New York City's WPIX, Channel 11's "Chiller Theater" on February 10, 1973, where it broadcast annually until 1978, only in black and white format only. It would be another decade before two-strip Technicolor prints surfaced and distributed on home video and DVD, with broadcasts on Turner Network Television (1988-1993) and finally Turner Classic Movies (1994-present).
With Glenda Farrell assuming the wisecracking reporter role Lee Tracy enacted in DOCTOR X, her performance in this venture seems right and warranted, improving over Tracy's lackluster buffoonery. Even if Farrell's character disappoints, the script does not and neither does Atwill. Who could forget his key scenes as the bearded Igor conversing with his favorite wax figure of Marie Antoinette, and his outlook as he witnesses the melting of his "children" in a blazing fire (very realistically done and effective in color), along with his unforgettable confrontation with the screaming Wray as he offers her "eternal life" in the manner that would have done 1925s "Phantom of the Opera" star Lon Chaney proud had he lived to see this.
In some ways, THE MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM is perfect, in others it's not, but must have been good enough to acquire a remake, find the missing negative for the original and have it displayed as one of the finer horror classics to come out from the 1930s. (**1/2)
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