Sunday, November 18, 2012

Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)

Obsessed London wax artist Ivan Igor (Lionel Atwill) is going broke and doesn't seem to care. Business partner certainly does and has a solution. Burn the house down for the insurance money. They fight but the poor artist is knocked unconscious.

Years later in New York, Igor reappears with a new museum, but because of injuries sustained in the fire, he cannot walk or use his hands. He trains young artists to do his sculpting for him. A young socialite dies and the reporter covering the story (Glenda Farrell), also the roommate of the fiancee (Fay Wray) of one of Igor's young artists, happens to notice that the Joan of Arc sculpture resembles the dead socialite, and that her body was stolen from the morgue ... well, you get the picture.

After seeing Vincent Price's House of Wax, I wanted to see this version for comparison. Apart from a couple character constructs, there is little difference in the stories. The biggest difference was the tone. As the main character is a 30's reporter, there was lots of that quick witted, wise-crackie, Front Page-esque dialog. The tone, in fact, was very similar to Doctor X, also starring Atwill and Wray and released the year before. Another similarity was that both were filmed in the two-strip technicolor process, which I happen to like.

Mystery of the Wax Museum is listed as a pre-code film, that is, released prior to the full enforcement of the MPAA production code, but I'm not sure what rule it violated. There is a reference to a bootlegger, but who cares. Only thing I can think is that some of Igor's sculptures were (horrors!) topless. Got that sexy clay going on.

Atwill excelled, as he frequently does, in his role. Wray got second billing, but didn't get much screen time or any good dialog to speak of. Her job was to scream when Igor tries to turn her into Marie Antoinette. This was really Farrell's movie, being in the lion's share of the frames and getting almost all the clever dialog.

So, how does it stack up to the 1953 remake? I'd match Atwill's performance up against Price, which is high praise, but overall the silly tone and mystery focus of the former has it falling short. Still a worthwhile watch, but doesn't offer much that the remake doesn't do better. AMRU 3.
"I offer you immortality, my child. Think of it: in a thousand years you shall be as lovely as you are now!"

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