Cast & Crew
In London in 1921, Mr. Igor's critically successful wax museum is burned down by his partner for the insurance money. Igor is trapped in the flames and all his work is destroyed. Twelve years later in New York, Igor watches from his window while the body of Joan Gale is taken to the morgue. Her rich young boyfriend, George Winton, is arrested for her murder, but when an autopsy is ordered, the police find the body has been stolen. Wisecracking reporter Florence Dempsey decides she will prove Winton's innocence. She accompanies her roommate Charlotte Duncan to Igor's new wax museum to visit Charlotte's fiancé Ralph Burton, Igor's assistant. There, Florence is struck by the resemblance between a wax statue of Joan of Arc and the dead Joan Gale. When Winton is released from prison on bail, he and Florence follow Igor's drug addict assistant, Sparrow, hoping to find out the truth about the museum. Meanwhile, Igor has trapped Charlotte in the museum. He tells her that because his hands were damaged in the fire, preventing him from sculpting, he has been killing people who resemble his burned statues, and once they are dipped in wax, he displays them. He plans to immortalize Charlotte as Marie Antoinette. She screams in response, and hearing her cries, Ralph breaks into the museum. He struggles with Igor, who falls into a vat of wax and dies. Florence gets her story and a surprise proposal from Jim, her editor.
Arthur Edmund Carewe
Charles S. Belden
E. A. Brown
Charles Scott Welbourne
The Mystery of the Wax Museum
Produced in the fall of 1932 and released in February 1933, Mystery of the Wax Museum was the last feature film to be shot in the Technicolor two-color process, and it represents one of the most effective uses of it in terms of visual design. The lighting by master cinematographer Ray Rennahan and the frequently abstract set designs by Anton Grot, combined with the restricted tonalities inherent to the color process, create an eerie atmosphere reminiscent of German Expressionism. Although it is often referred to as "two-strip Technicolor," the actual photographic process, which was developed in 1920, used a single black-and-white negative. The film camera recorded two adjacent frames simultaneously on a single strip of film, one frame filtered to capture the green color record and the other filtered to capture the red. The process required extremely bright lights, resulting in hot temperatures on the set and even eye damage to many actors during that period. In Mystery of the Wax Museum, the heat necessitated the use of real people in place of wax sculptures, since the wax would have melted. If you look closely, you can occasionally spot very slight eye movements in the actors posing as the sculptures.
The color printing process used by Technicolor from 1920 to 1927 involved printing the two color records on separate strips of film: most commonly, one with blue-green dye and one with red-orange. The two strips of film were half the thickness of normal film stock and were reversed in relationship to each other, so that they could be cemented together into a single strip of film. Although the process provided consistent color reproduction within the limits of a two-color system, the prints had a tendency to split because of the heat generated by the projector's arc lamp and thus frequently had to be sent back to the lab for repair. The first feature film using the Technicolor two-color process was The Toll of the Sea (1922). Because the process was expensive, its use tended to be limited to isolated sequences within films, including major productions such as The Phantom of the Opera (1925), The Big Parade (1925) and Ben-Hur (1925). The most notable feature using two-color process throughout was the Douglas Fairbanks adventure The Black Pirate (1926).
In 1928, Technicolor developed the dye imbibition film printing technique, which enabled more than one layer of dye to be applied to a single strip of film, thus eliminating the need for cemented prints. Some features using this improved process included The King of Jazz (1930), Whoopee! (1930), Doctor X (1932) and, finally, Mystery of the Wax Museum. In 1932, Technicolor developed a three-color system that could at last photograph the full color spectrum. This time, it used three separate rolls of black-and-white film running through a single camera to capture the red, blue and green color records. The printing stage used the dye imbibition process to combine the separate color records onto one strip of film. The result was the richly saturated color that Technicolor has become famous for. This new process was first used with the Disney animated short Flowers and Trees (1932). The first live action short filmed in the three-strip Technicolor process was La Cucaracha (1934) and the first feature film was Becky Sharp (1935), both of which were photographed by Ray Rennahan, who had by now long enjoyed a reputation as a leading expert in color cinematography. Other significant Technicolor films on which Rennahan worked include: the first Technicolor feature produced in Britain, Wings of the Morning (1937), Drums Along the Mohawk (1939), Gone With the Wind (1939), Blood and Sand (1941) and For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943). For more information about Technicolor color processes, see the excellent American Widescreen Museum website (http://www.widescreenmuseum.org) and the book Technicolor Movies by Richard W. Haines.
Mystery of the Wax Museum, sometimes referred to simply as Wax Museum, was produced by Warner Brothers to capitalize on the fad for horror films at that time, ranging from the now-legendary Universal franchise of horror films to low-budget independent productions like White Zombie (1932). This particular film reunited the team of director Michael Curtiz, photographer Rennahan, art director Grot, lead actor Lionel Atwill, leading lady Fay Wray and supporting actor Arthur Edmund Carewe, who had all contributed to the success of Doctor X the year before. An important addition to the formula was the comic performance of Glenda Farrell, who plays the cynical, fast-talking reporter--a character type she would revisit in Warner Brothers' popular "Torchy Blaine" series of the late Thirties.
The squeamish critic Mordaunt Hall of the New York Times found Mystery of the Wax Museum to be "too ghastly for comfort." He wrote: "It is all very well in its way to have a mad scientist performing operations in well-told stories, but when a melodrama depends upon the glimpses of covered bodies in a morgue and the stealing of some of them by an insane modeler in wax, it is going too far." He did, however, praise the comic relief offered by Glenda Farrell and Frank McHugh as the reporter and her newspaper editor. The reviewer for Variety wrote that "makeups are about the last word in gruesomeness," but complained that it had a "loose and unconvincing story," adding: "Loose ends never quite jell but it's one of those artificial things whose sole retrospection will inspire an uncomfortable feeling of the physically misshapen and little else. But it doesn't bore and should go well with the B-grade houses and nabes." Although the film turned a handsome profit--approximately 800,00 dollars--it was more successful in Europe than in the U.S., according to Curtiz biographer James C. Robertson.
The film was considered "lost" for many years until a print was found in Jack Warner's private vault. Even then, it was usually shown on television in black-and-white prints; the print shown on TCM is in the original two-color Technicolor process. While no masterpiece compared to the best Universal horror films, Mystery of the Wax Museum remains briskly entertaining and above all, striking to look at.
Producer: Henry Blanke
Director: Michael Curtiz
Screenplay: Don Mullaly and Carl Erickson, based on a story by Charles S. Belden
Photography: Ray Rennahan
Art Direction: Anton Grot
Editing: George Amy
Principal cast: Lionel Atwill (Mr. Igor); Glenda Farrell (Florence Dempsey); Fay Wray (Charlotte Duncan); Frank McHugh (Editor); Allen Vincent (Ralph Burton); Gavin Gordon (George Winton); Edwin Maxwell (Joe Worth); Holmes Herbert (Dr. Rasmussen); Arthur Edmund Carewe (Sparrow).
C-78m. Closed captioning.
by James Steffen
The Mystery of the Wax Museum
Fay Wray (1907-2004)
She was born Vina Fay Wray, in Cardston, Alberta, Canada on September 15, 1907. Her family relocated to Arizona when she was still a toddler so her father could find employment. When her parents divorced, her mother sent her to Hollywood when Fay's eldest sister died in the influenza epidemic of 1918. The reasoning was that Southern California offered a healthier climate for the young, frail Wray.
She attended Hollywood High School, where she took some classes in drama. After she graduated, she applied to the Hal Roach studio and was given a six-month contract where she appeared in two-reel Westerns (25 minutes in length), and played opposite Stan Laurel in his pre-Oliver Hardy days.
She landed her first big role, as Mitzi Schrammell, in Erich von Stroheim's beautifully mounted silent The Wedding March (1928). It made Wray a star. She then starred in some excellent films: The Four Feathers (1929), the early Gary Cooper Western The Texan (1930), and one of Ronald Coleman's first starring roles The Unholy Garden (1931), all of which were big hits of the day.
For whatever reason, Wray soon found herself in a string of thrillers that made her one of the great screamers in Hollywood history. The titles say it all: Doctor X, The Most Dangerous Game (both 1932), Mystery of the Wax Museum, The Vampire Bat (both 1933) and, of course her most famous role, that of Ann Darrow, who tempts cinema's most famous ape in the unforgettable King Kong (also 1933).
Wray did prove herself quite capable in genre outside of the horror game, the best of which were Shanghai Madness with Spencer Tracy; The Bowery (both 1933), a tough pre-Hays Code drama opposite George Raft; and the brutal Viva Villa (1934), with Wallace Beery about the famed Mexican bandit. Yet curiously, the quality of her scripts began to tank, and she eventually found herself acting in such mediocre fare as Come Out of the Pantry (1935), and They Met in a Taxi (1936).
With her roles becoming increasingly routine, the last of which was the forgettable comedy Not a Ladies Man (1942), she decided to trade acting for domesticity and married Robert Riskin, who won two Best Screenplay Oscars® for the Frank Capra comedies It Happened One Night (1934) and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936). When Riskin died in 1955, Wray found herself working to keep busy and support her three children. She landed supporting parts for films like The Cobweb (1955), Hell on Frisco Bay (1956) and Tammy and the Bachelor (1957). She also found work in television on such popular programs as Perry Mason and Wagon Train before she retired from acting all together in the mid-'60s.
To her credit, Wray did remain reasonably active after her retirement. She published her autobiography, On The Other Hand in 1989 and was attending many film festivals that honored her contribution to film, most notably in January 2003, when, at 95 years of age, she accepted in person her "Legend in Film" Award at the Palm Beach International Film Festival. Wray is survived by a son, Robert Riskin Jr.; two daughters, Susan and Victoria; and two grandchildren.
by Michael T. Toole
Fay Wray (1907-2004)
OK, brother, then you can go to some nice warm place, and I don't mean California.- Florence
I've only known you twenty-four hours, but I'm in love with you.- Winton
Doesn't usually take that long.- Florence
"My dear, why are you so pitifully afraid? Immortality has been the dream, the inspiration of mankind through the ages. And I am going to give you immortality!"- Ivan Igor
The movie was believed to be lost until the late sixties.
This was the last commercial exploitation (and probably best example) of Technicolor's 2-Strip system
This film was also known as Wax Museum. It was the last film to be made with the two-color Technicolor process. Some contemporary sources refer to Charles S. Belden's story as a play. Andre de Toth directed a 3-D version of the story called House of Wax in 1953 starring Vincent Price, which was also released by Warner Bros. Although a TV series based on the idea was to have been made, it did not make it to television and the pilot was released as the theatrical feature Chamber of Horrors in 1966 (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70; F6.0733). Roger Corman also used the basic story in Bucket of Blood in 1959. Modern sources state that a large photographic blow-up of a scene featuring Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray was used as a theatrical backdrop in The Florentine Dagger directed by Robert Florey in 1935. According to modern sources, the enormous heat generated by the lights needed for the two-color process made the wax figures melt, so in most scenes, the figures were played by actors.
Released in United States 1933
Released in United States November 1971
Remade as "House of Wax" (1953) directed by Andre DeToth.
Released in United States 1933
Released in United States November 1971 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (A Tribute to the American Cinema) November 4-14, 1971.)