Mystery of the Wax Museum

Warner Bros.' Supreme Thriller

Horror Mystery
77 min     6.5     1933     USA


The disappearance of people and corpses leads a reporter to a wax museum and a sinister sculptor.


John Chard wrote:
My dear, why are you so pitifully afraid? London 1921, and brilliant sculptor Ivan Igor struggles to keep his museum open due to lack of interest in his beautiful historical characters. His partner Joe Worth feels it's time to call it quits, a row over finances ensues and a fire breaks out and burns the museum to the ground, almost killing Igor in the process. On to 1933 and New York, where the wheelchair bound Igor has a new museum open, the figures sculpted by others under his guidance due to his horribly disfigured hands preventing him from crafting himself. When a female socialite dies and her body is stolen from the morgue, ballsy reporter Florence Dempsey starts to investigate. Could it be that the stealing of the body is linked to the opening of Igor's new museum? Mystery of the Wax Museum was long thought to have had it's elements lost in a (ironically) fire, so with no Technicolor negative or prints available, it was a cinematic godsend that a used print was discovered in Jack Warner's private vault. The UCLA Film and Television Archive restored the film, and now the film can be seen in all its former glory. Riding in on a high reputation, the restored film was met with less than favourable results by the critics, possibly due in some part to the rightful regard that the remake, House Of Wax 1953, was held. What it is safe to say is that the film is more of a mystery (the clue is in the title!) than an outright horror. Something I don't think many were prepared for. The critics derision back then is now on reflection, stupid. For it's a truly fine film from an interesting era in film making. The sets from Anton Grot are brilliant, Gothic pieces of work. While the performance of Lionel Atwill as Igor is superb, and arguably his best work. The actress' do well enough, Fay Wray (reuniting with Atwill again after their work in Dr X in 1932) as Charlotte Duncan hones her scream queen method, and Glenda Farrell is ebullient and sharp tongued as Dempsey. There's also daring themes involved in the story, necrophilia, drug addiction, insanity and bootlegging. With the horror elements of the piece born out by the grizzly secrets of Igor's museum. It's also not just an important film in the pantheon of colour pictures, but also in that it has a modern city setting. Helping to bring horror to the streets instead of some ye olde village or faraway castle. It's a smashing mystery/horror film that is now thankfully widely available on various DVDs, so see it if you can. 8/10