(1933) director Michael Curtiz
The fact that Mystery of the Wax Museum was an old favorite from childhood probably says a lot about me as a kid. It was my favorite of the “Wax Museum” movies. Though I knew that it starred Fay Wray, most famous for her role as the plaything of King Kong (1933), and that I recognized the name of Lionel Atwill as another actor who showed up in a number of these movies, I wasn’t at that time all that familiar with directors and wouldn’t have appreciated that this was also a film by Michael Curtiz.
Only last year I discovered another of Curtiz’s great early films, Doctor X (1931), which also featured Fay Wray, Lionel Atwill, and also the very cool 2-strip Technicolor, one of the earliest forms of color movies. Apparently, both of those films even in their current DVD releases still lack restoration to the fullness of the two strip Technicolor technique. I still think it has great charm.
Mystery of the Wax Museum also has great charm and not just because of the color. Fay Wray has a great role as the fast-talking reporter who susses out the scheme. The scheme, of course, is that the new wax museum in New York features corpses, dipped in wax, corpses made (by killing), corpses stolen, corpses on display. Of course, it goes back to an earlier time, when the great waxwork artist played by Atwill made wax figures entirely out of wax until his unscrupulous partner set the place ablaze to collect on the insurance money and to leave him for dead.
Really, it’s a more elaborate sort of Phantom of the Opera.
With cinematography by Karl Freund, the film reeks of atmosphere in its luridly lush strange coloration. It’s got great wit in parts as well, particularly in a sight-gag about corpses rising in the morgue because of the embalming fluid in them. Only the next one that rises is the ghoul who steals the bodies away. And it has the great ending with the villain’s “face” (of wax) is beaten to bits to reveal his horribly disfigured visage.
The kids enjoyed it a good deal. Enough so that they were keen to watch the A-side of this DVD, the 1953 re-make of the film entitled House of Wax, starring Vincent Price. Which was then again re-made a few years ago with Paris Hilton. But that is definitely something for another time.