Saturday, October 6, 2012

Wax that Works :: A 22 Vid-Cap Look at Michael Curtiz's The Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)

___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___
"I tell you that place is a morgue, do you hear?! A morgue!!"
___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___

When bodies start disappearing from the city morgue, courtesy of a mysterious masked marauder, a plucky reporter starts sniffing around for a hot scoop to both stick in her snarky editor's ear and solve the mystery. And through mostly happenstance and plain dumb luck while covering a puff piece, she discovers something most sinister is going on at the local waxworks, where several historical figure displays bare an uncanny resemblance to those missing cadavers. Will our reporter be able to convince the authorities of the Who, What, Where, When and Why of the awful truth before the next victim becomes history, too?

This has been happening to me a lot, lately, but, The Mystery of the Wax Museum is another one of those films that seems to be getting better the older I get. And even though I've always liked the film, now I absolutely adore it. Expectations can be a bitch sometimes, and the further removed you get from those initial first impressions the better, I guess. And this flick, as I watch it with aging eyes and maturing sensibilities has improved exponentially with each viewing -- or I've at least become more forgiving of its faults; mostly a middle act that spends way too much time spinning its wheels. Still, I love the look of the two-strip technicolor -- and I think I'd love it even more if somebody would give it the full restoration treatment. And I just love the Vulcan Mind-Meld of Art Deco and MC Escher on the set designs of the waxworks, Igor's diabolical workshop, and all those stairways and catwalks that always dogleg back to nowhere. I love how those body parts, alive, dead, or stuffed, are always protruding into the scene. I love the fact that nobody has a set of lungs like Fay Wray. And I love the perversity of that highly erotic finale, when, even though the damsel in distress has been saved, the wax dispenser is still allowed to ejaculate rather messily to punctuate the climax. Wow.

Speaking of that climax, I absolutely love those wild haymakers Atwill starts throwing at those party-poopers, and how the scene devolves into a free-for-all right out of the serials. And I love the fact that all those wax statues kept twitching, breathing and blinking. (Apparently, the real wax dummies kept melting under the lights so director Curtiz had to resort to Plan B.) And most of all, I love the fact that Farrell appears to be out of her cotton-picking mind and having ball, bringing the fire and the spit to her role as the crack(pot) reporter. When first encountered, I found this performance as overplayed and too much time spent with the odious comedy relief, taking the focus away from the macabre elements that brought me here in the first place. Now, she makes the movie tick. And hats off to scriptwriters Mullaly, Erickson and Belden for beating Howard Hawks to the punch with the gender-switching twist on Milestone's The Front Page, which would go a long, long way in explaining that inexplicable and cockamamie ending when Dempsey pulls the His Girl Friday and dumps the (granted, pretty worthless) bootlegger for her crumb of an (even more worthless) editor.

Other Points of Interest:

Poster campaign for Mystery of the Wax Museum at the Archive.

The Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) The Vitaphone Corporation :: Warner Bros. / P: Henry Blanke, Hal B. Wallis / D: Michael Curtiz / W: Don Mullaly, Carl Erickson, Charles Belden / C: Ray Rennahan / E: George Amy / M: Leo F. Forbstein, Cliff Hess, Bernhard Kaun / S: Lionel Atwill, Glenda Farrell, Fay Wray, Frank McHugh, Allen Vincent, Gavin Gordon


Gassyknoll said...

I've known a few reporters through the years, and yet, I've never met one anyone would describe as "plucky".

Matter of fact, the only thing I'd describe as plucky would be a certain green duck.

W.B. Kelso said...

Well, to be honest, Ms. Farrel was just as disaster prone as the duck in question.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...