On my daily trek I notice a polar bear and a penguin sitting together – surely they’re from completely different continents?
In my excitement I forgot about the fact that a polar bear would probably tear me limb for limb, and rush to meet them.
The mystery is solved. The Polar Bear and penguin are but mere drawings on a large white canvas. On the back is written these cryptic words, “On the outside grows the furside, on the inside grows the skinside.”
Someone is toying with me. Someone is watching me. In the name of God, what can it all mean???
MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (1933)
Mystery of the Wax Museum was remade in 1953 with exactly the same story but a different title, ‘House of Wax’.
‘House of Wax’ was remade in 2005 with exactly the same title but a completely different story.
Go figure… can a film be a remake if it’s a completely different story? And if it has Paris Hilton in it? Answers on a postcard to the usual address please…
In the meantime we’re in London, where Lionel Atwill is a wonderful sculptor of wax figures. When his employer sets fire to his museum for the insurance money, he’s understandably a bit miffed. The two have a fight amongst the flames. It’s a rather wonderful fight - real knockabout stuff as the wax figures melt and the sculptor and his dreams disappear…
A few short years later and we’re in modern day 1930’s Noo Yoik! A brand new Wax Museum is being opened by Lionel Atwill, now in a wheelchair with horribly burned and useless hands. The waxworks look as good as ever though. Maybe too good, as some of them are uncannily similar to the visages of recently dead people. Recently dead people whose bodies have been stolen from the City Morgue (or ‘Da City Moig’ as they say in the film).
I’ve read praise being heaped on Atwill’s subtle and nuanced performance in this movie but I’m afraid I much prefer Mr Vincent Price's later portrayal in House of Wax. Atwill is so subtle that he doesn’t actually do much until the gripping finale when he kicks off big time. Vinny is much more memorable. More theatrical and dynamic. I like my bad guys theatrical and dynamic.
And Fay Wray is gorgeous, but not an especially amazing actress on this showing - although she gives good scream as ever, especially when she cracks the mask of Atwill (I should probably try and remember his charcter's name)and discovers the horrifying sight that lurks underneath!
Thank God for Glenda Farrell then, playing feisty blonde bombshell reporter Florence Dempsey.
She MAKES the movie she does, playing her part with such joyous energy that she almost single-handedly gives the movie its sense of drama, urgency and fun. If the scene's got her in it, then we're instantly caught up in the story. Without her, we're suddenly reminded that we're watching a very old movie...
She can talk. Boy, the girl can talk! It’s one of those 100 mile per hour voices that they just don’t do any more. Apparently she was renowned for it, and could speak 400 words a minute. It’s a joy to watch. The scenes with her and her editor Joe, an almost-but-not-quite-as fast-talking Noo Yoiker are great, as they both prattle on to each other about… well about stuff that makes no apparent sense:
Florence: As I live and breathe and wear spats - the prince!
Jim: You been doing experiments with scotch and soda again?
Florence: Where'd you get that news item, from a little bird?
Jim: Yeah, have a pleasant vacation?
Florence: Charming, more delightful people crippled.
I mean, like huh???
Here’s another wonderful Florence quote that had me scratching my head:
Florence: [describing the disfigured man’s appearance] And that face , it was like an African war mask.
Detective: You mean he was coloured?
Florence: I don't know what he was , but he made Frankenstein look like a lily.
Bearing in mind that Mystery of the Wax Museum came out only a couple of short years after Frankenstein, I suppose this line may have been received as a topical, witty gag by audiences. If you can remember, drop me a line...
Mystery of the Wax Museum is definitely a classic, and it was considered lost until the 1960’s, we should be extremely grateful for the chance to watch it.
You’ll find Mystery of the Wax Museum as an extremely generous extra on the House of Wax (1953) DVD. You’ll enjoy both. Add ‘Carry on Screaming’ for a triple bill and you'll be 'frying tonight'!
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