Mystery of the Wax Museum (Curtiz, 1933)

Fairly different from the remake it’s still the little differences that set it apart and make it interesting in it’s own way. I don’t think it’s any better or worse than the remake, but it certainly isn’t all of the same. For one thing, it’s set in the “now”, which happens to the 1930s, which feels like a period film to us. That actually renders much of the setting and behaviour more natural, and much to my enjoyment, the writing and dialogue is a little more snappy. It’s essentially written lile a very poor man’s His Girl Friday with wax dummies. They use all the popular slang one could hope for, and it’s incredibly entertaining. Just like in the former, the film’s main character is a strong and feisty woman, though here she’s far more independent than the latter. It’s also far more risqué, and just watching both films, the changes instated because of the production code become apparent (one character is an alcoholic in the 1953 version, in this film, he’s a junkie).

What also works in it’s favour, is the two tier Technicolor process. It’s an interesting look, not quite real.. but somehow very beautiful. It works especially with the wax dummies, which unlike the first, is clearly played entirely by human beings, even when they’re not supposed to be. Obviously, this was probably done because it’s cheaper, but it adds an extra layer to the film. It makes it a little more eerie, a little more beautiful.

Overall though, the performances aren’t nearly as interesting as the remake, though I can’t imagine anyone in the ’53 version pulling off the quick-fire dialogue on display in this one. It also has Fay Wray, everyone’s favourite scream queen… she screams like no other! Though, she can’t really act… still, nobody’s perfect.

4 responses to “Mystery of the Wax Museum (Curtiz, 1933)

  1. Really what made the remake the best of the two is Vincent Price.

    Only he could deliver a line like, “I’m afraid that the visit of a such distinguished critic may cause my children to become conceited. To you they are wax, but to me their creator, they live and breathe.”

  2. Well, I’m in the minority opinion here I suppose because I feel this version is far superior to the 53 remake. Curtiz’ pacing whisks the viewer and story along whereas the remake drags its feet. And the original has Glenda Farrell, a force of nature in the thirties in movies like this and her Torchy Blaine series. Farrell alone makes the movie better for me. And I’m glad you mentioned using real people because, especially in the opening scenes of Lionel Atwill by himself in the museum, it’s incredibly eerie. Even more so when you can see slight movement in them, like mannequins coming to life.

  3. I like both about the same, they both have their advantages. Glenda Farrell is excellent, and yes… I wish they had used real people in the sequel. It really plays up the fantasy element and the wax artists’s apparent exceptional “other worldly” skill.

    No, mostly within the span of a few hours. I like early technicolor too!

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