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The Mystery of the Wax Museum Reviews

Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray are teamed here for the second time in a Michael Curtiz-directed, Warner Brothers-produced two-strip Technicolor horror film (their first pairing was in DR. X in 1932). The film opens in London, in 1921, as the brilliant sculptor Ivan Igor (Atwill) is hard at work on his latest creation, surrounded by beautiful wax sculptures of female historical figures. Having eschewed the more sensational--and, therefore, more lucrative--figures of killers like Jack the Ripper in favor of these beautiful creations, Ivan finds his wax museum on the brink of bankruptcy. A fight over finances between Ivan and his partner, Joe Worth (Edwin Maxwell), results in the museum's destruction by fire, the "death" of the wax figures, and Ivan's near death. The scene then shifts to New York City, 1933, where the grey-haired Ivan is confined to a wheelchair, his hands crippled from the fire. When a wealthy socialite dies and her corpse is stolen from the morgue, tough-talking female reporter Florence Dempsey (Glenda Farrell) investigates the case. The strange disappearance of the corpse coincides suspiciously with Ivan's preparation for the opening of his new museum,in which the wax beauties have a remarkably lifelike appearance. Feared to be lost for many years, MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM gained a mighty reputation when film historians' memories of the movie were jogged by the 1953 3-D remake, HOUSE OF WAX. When a print of the original film surfaced in the late 1960s, however, many critics were disappointed with it, shrugging it off as a silly mystery picture, though their initial reaction was entirely unfounded. An amazing film filled with stunning sets (by Anton Grot), exceptional moments, and perhaps Atwill's greatest performance, THE MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM is also a very adult film that deals explicitly with drug addiction, necrophilia, and insanity. Notable for its wonderful use of color, it was also one of the first horror films to be set in the everyday reality of modern-day New York and not in a mystical foreign land.