MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (1933)
Starring Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Glenda Farrell, Frank McHugh, Gavin Winton, Edwin Maxwell. Directed by Michael Curtiz. (78 min)
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Review by Mr. Paws😸
Long-thought lost to the ravages of time, this little obscurity is historically noteworthy for inspiring the much-better-known remake, House of Wax, widely considered one of the best horror films of the 1950s and a high point in Vincent Price’s career. Though not as atmospheric or creepy, Mystery of the Wax Museum is a nifty film in its own right.
Morbid premise aside, this one doesn’t really unfold like a horror film. As per the title, it’s more of a mystery and almost upbeat in tone, largely thanks to a highly amusing performance by Glenda Farrell as fast-talking, wise-cracking reporter Florence Dempsey (a persona she would soon take to the bank in the Torchy Blane series). Despite being third billed, she’s the main protagonist with the most screen time. Her quasi-antagonistic banter with beleaguered newspaper editor Jim (Frank McHugh) is witty enough to be right-at-home in His Girl Friday.
|"All I'm saying, honey, is maybe lay-off the tanning visits for awhile."
As deranged, vengeful sculptor Ivan Igor, Lionel Atwill makes a suitably menacing villain. However, fans of legendary scream queen Fay Wray will probably be disappointed. Not only is she largely absent throughout the first half of the film, her character largely exists to be put in peril. Speaking of which, it isn’t until Igor’s grisly agenda is revealed – during the final act - that Mystery of the Wax Museum ventures into horror territory, but does so quite effectively. Sinister production design and imaginative make-up effects (for its time, anyway) provide some punch to a genuinely suspenseful climax.
Additionally, let’s give a shout-out to those who restored this film. All existing prints were apparently in pretty bad shape, but you couldn’t tell from this transfer. Nearly scratch and blemish free, this doesn’t look or sound like an 87 year old movie. Restoration efforts are also the subject of a revealing featurette and one of the audio commentaries.
From a historical perspective, Mystery of the Wax Museum is an interesting early foray into big screen horror, even if it only dips a toe in the water. The film itself is no House of Wax, but a lot of old-fashioned fun and still a damn sight better than the second remake (you know, the one with Paris Hilton).
"REMEMBERING FAY WRAY” - An affectionate interview Victoria Riskin, Fay’s daughter.
FEATURETTE – Seven-minute short on the restoration, with before & after comparisons of certain scenes.
2 AUDIO COMMENTARIES – 1) Scott McQueen from UCLA’s Film & TV Archive; 2) Film historian Alan K. Rode
PURR-R-R...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS.