December 1st, 2011: Mystery of the Wax Museum

Cast and Crew:  Hal B. Wallis (Producer)

What It’s About: Ivan Igor (Lionel Atwill) is a brilliant wax sculptor who elevates (at least, according to the film) wax figures to an “art”, but his unscrupulous partner Worth (Edwin Maxwell) wants to burn their museum down for the insurance money. The two fight and in the ensuing struggle the gallery burns to the ground.  Ten years later wise-cracking New York City reporter Florence Dempsey (Glenda Farrell) begins investigating the death of a society dame and a series of body thefts at the morgue. Can there be any connection to Ivan’s newly opened wax museum?

Why Watch it Today?:   Madame Tussad, the famous sculptor of wax figures whose fame lives on in a franchise of international tourist traps, was born today in 1761.  Wax museums provide the inspiration and setting for a small sub genre of horror, with the most famous being the 1950s remake of today’s film, House of Wax, which starred Vincent Price and was one of the biggest hits of the first wave of films shot in 3-D. Indeed, it’s currently on Box Office Mojo’s list of all time box office champs, with a take of over $400 million when adjusted for inflation!  So why is Mystery of the Wax Museum today’s movie of the day?  Quite simply, it’s the better film.  Yes, Lionel Atwill is no Vincent Price, but he is at his best here, and Fay Wray, who plays the damsel in distress, is still one of the all time great scream queens (emphasis on the scream).  More importantly, Mystery treats the events as a mystery (however transparent), is full of pre-Code naughtiness, and is free of House of Wax‘s tongue-in-cheek attitude.  Mystery of the Wax Museum was directed by Michael Curtiz, who cut his teeth on genre pictures before moving on to classic films like Casablanca, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Mildred Pierce, and many more.

Where to Get It:  Available as an extra on the House of Wax DVD from Netflix (rental only) or Amazon


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