Directed by Michael Curtiz [Other horror films: Alraune (1919), The Mad Genius (1931), Doctor X (1932), The Walking Dead (1936)]
I can’t say for sure how long it’s been since I’ve last seen this one, but I definitely know it’s at least been six years. I think I’ve seen it twice before, making this my third time watching this classic, but from my faulty memory, you wouldn’t know it.
Part of this may come from the fact that House of Wax, a 1953 remake of this movie, is just naturally fresher in my mind. Not only have I seen it moderately recently, but the story itself is a bit more striking (in that film, Price’s character has a wax house of horrors – here, it’s more beautiful wax figures without the horrific charm).
All that said, I was deeply interested in revisiting this one, and while it didn’t quite hold up as much as I was hoping it would, I had a decent time. I think the story is a little bit more streamlined in the 1953 movie, and of course, they had Vincent Price, so that’s going to be hard to beat anyway.
What Mystery of the Wax Museum did have, though, was beautiful color. To be sure, we’ve seen color before (in fact, the director of this film, Michael Curtiz, also directed Doctor X, another early horror film in color), but it looked a lot fresher here, and I imagine that’s partly due to the restoration the print has had done to it.
Though not all of the elements of the story come together (I’d have liked more background on the revenge Lionel Atwill’s character got on Edwin Maxwell’s), the little mystery here is pretty solid, and having a reporter running around and trying to figure things out does keep things decently engaging. Of course, the main problem then becomes that the woman running around, being Glenda Farrell, wasn’t playing the most likable character.
Which isn’t to say that Farrell didn’t do a great job. As a snappy, witty reporter, she did quite well, but her character irked me far more than she endeared me. Somewhat amusingly, though, Fay Wray bothered me more – she was no doubt a beautiful woman, but honestly, 90% of what she did in this movie was scream. It wasn’t her choice, I imagine, but the point remains. Lionel Atwilln (Murders in the Zoo, Doctor X, The Vampire Bat, etc.) did great as the tragic character that was Ivan Igor, and I definitely felt for him.
It’s hard for me to quantify the nature of my issue with this one. I don’t dislike it – Mystery of the Wax Museum possesses a good, quick story, and things move along at a nice pace with occasionally great scenes (not to mention beautiful color) – but I didn’t love it either. I think it stood out to me more positively the first time I saw it than it did this time around.
As rough as the Technicolor looked in Doctor X, I think that story was perhaps just a bit more fun. And while I ultimately might enjoy House of Wax more than this original story, Mystery of the Wax Museum is still worth seeing, but personally, at least with this viewing, I wasn’t overwhelmed with glory.
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