Muni's second starring feature--he'd gotten an Academy Award nomination for his first, THE VALIANT, released the same year--has the great character actor essaying seven different roles. Muni is the aged caretaker of a bankrupt wax museum in Paris. When the figures in the museum are
auctioned off, he makes a bid for his favorite, Napoleon Bonaparte. Outbid, he steals the figure and is tried for the crime before austere magistrate Lonergan. Defended by young attorney Gleason (the son of actors James and Lucille Gleason, in his first year as a featured player), who had used the
wax museum as a trysting place in his romance with Lonergan's daughter Churchill, Muni is ultimately exonerated. In attempting to further the romance of the young lovers, Muni dreams that he is six of the historical figures represented by waxen images in the defunct museum, including Napoleon,
Franz Schubert, Don Juan, and Svengali, each of whom offers advice anent amour. The dreams include a multiple-exposed ballet sequence in this tour de force for the great actor of the Yiddish theater, who had come to Hollywood's attention only after his first English-speaking Broadway stage role
three years previously. Muni made many brief personal appearances in theaters to promote this production. He was discouraged by studio press reports which compared him with Lon Chaney, the great master of monsters. Muni stated, "I'm an actor. I play any part." Muni, unaccustomed to the speed of
Hollywood production, was disappointed in this film; he felt that he had not been allowed enough time to develop either his characterizations or his makeup. He went back to the Broadway stage after this, returning to Hollywood and ultimate triumph in two major releases of 1932, SCARFACE and I AM A
FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG. This was also lovely actress Churchill's first year as a featured player; she had worked with Muni in THE VALIANT, released earlier that year. The studio thought well enough of her charms to include a brief, utterly gratuitous shot of her in her lingerie in this one.
Like many early talkies, this one had dual direction; the directors who were experienced with the visuals of the silents were unfamiliar with the requirements of dialog. The dialog direction was handled by actor Lonergan, the visual by codirector Viertel.
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- Review: Muni's second starring feature--he'd gotten an Academy Award nomination for his first, THE VALIANT, released the same year--has the great character actor essaying seven different roles. Muni is the aged caretaker of a bankrupt wax museum in Paris. When the… (more)