Category Archives: Fay Wray

Blu-Ray Review: Mystery Of The Wax Museum (1933).

Directed by Michael Curtiz
Screenplay by Don Mullaly and Carl Erickson
From the story by Charles S. Belden
Photography by Ray Rennahan
Art Director Anton Grot
Edited by George Amy
Gowns by Orry-Kelly

Cast: Lionel Atwill (Mr. Igor), Fay Wray (Charlotte Duncan), Glenda Farrell (Florence), Frank McHugh (Editor), Allen Vincent (Ralph Burton), Gavin Gordon (George Winton), Edwin Maxwell (Joe Worth), Holmes Herbert (Dr. Rasmussen), Arthur Edmund Carewe (Darcy/Sparrow)

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There’s something about a “lost” film that magically lifts it above the usual concerns about quality. It’s lost, good or bad doesn’t matter anymore. Same goes with what it looks like — we’ll take anything, it’s lost!* When a 35mm Technicolor print of Mystery Of The Wax Museum (1933) turned up in Jack Warner’s personal archive (about 50 years ago!), all that mattered was seeing it. It once was lost, but now it was found.

Sadly, the 16mm color prints (pulled from Jack’s 35) that made the rounds of colleges and film festivals weren’t much to write home about. (The story goes that the picture’s cinematographer, Technicolor artiste Ray Rennahan, attended one of those screenings, and he was so dismayed by what was on the screen, he left.)

Well, enough time’s gone by that Mystery Of The Wax Museum isn’t a lost film anymore. To most folks, it’s just a creaky, creepy old horror movie with weird-looking color. In fact, it’s probably better known now as the movie House Of Wax (1953) was a remake of. But thanks to Warner Archive’s new Blu-Ray — from a miraculous restoration by UCLA and The Film Foundation, with funding from The George Lucas Family Foundation, it’s certainly not lost. It’s not nearly as creaky. And its color, while still a little weird, shines like a diamond (or an emerald since there’s so much green). And I’m happy to say, man, this thing’s creepier than ever.

Come to think of it, it’s like it’s been found again! We don’t have to look past or through anything anymore. We don’t have to imagine what it looked like back in ’33. We can just enjoy it for what it is. This restoration (a second print was later discovered in France) levels the playing field to let it compete with its ghoulish gang of contemporaries — 30s horror masterpieces like Frankenstein (1931), White Zombie (1932), The Black Cat (1934) and so on. And while it might not reach some of those lurid, lofty heights, it really holds its own. 

We all know the plot by now. A sculptor (Lionel Atwill) is disfigured when a London wax museum is burned by its owner for the insurance money. Years later, that sculptor has relocated to New York and is about to reopen a new museum with recreations of his greatest works. A young reporter (Glenda Farrell) notices that the Joan Of Ark figure looks a lot like a young women who died a few days ago, and whose body disappeared from the morgue. (Obviously, House Of Wax was a very faithful remake.) Then, as luck would have it, Fay Wray wanders into the museum, and she’s the spitting image of Atwill’s melted masterpiece, Marie Antoinette. From there, things get even weirder and far more sinister as Atwill’s evil plan and despicable working methods are discovered.

Seeing it look this good, and with its sound cleaned up to an astonishing degree, there are some things about the film that really strike you. The dialogue has that snappy early-30s cops and reporters repartee going on, which we know from pictures like The Front Page (1931). Some of it’s a real hoot — and some a little suggestive, which helps remind you that this is a pre-Code picture.

The picture seems to wallow in its more lurid aspects. Atwill’s employees are quite a seemly, leering bunch. One, Darcy (Arthur Edmund Carewe), is a junkie who the police question until his DTs cause him to spill. There’s a bit of talk about bootlegging. And we get to spend time in the morgue, with a body rising to a seated position, an eery result of the embalming process. And of course there are numerous opportunities to gawk at Fay Wray’s legs. It’s all part of the fun. 

Ray Rennaham (behind camera), Lionel Atwill and Michael Curtiz.

There are times when it’s quite obvious the wax figures are played by people. The hot lights needed for Technicolor photography didn’t get along with the wax figures. Queen Victoria blinks. Joan Of Arc’s lip twitches. 

Speaking of those hot lights. Mystery Of The Wax Museum was the last feature shot in two-color Technicolor. Ray Rennahan and set designer/art director Anton Grot worked with the process’ limited color palette to create plenty of atmosphere. As we see the picture today, two colors were not a handicap for these folks. The odd color enhances the odd nature of the story, especially the vivid greens in a few creepy closeups. It’s surprisingly stylish.

Mystery Of The Wax Museum has always been a favorite, and I cherish my laserdisc of it paired with Doctor X (1932), another creepy two-color picture from Atwill, Wray, Curtiz and Rennahan. (Would love to see Doctor X get a similar restoration.) Seeing Mystery Of The Wax Museum on Blu-Ray is a revelation, making it quite obvious that the damage and semi-color were a real detriment to how much we enjoyed it over the years. The extras — a tribute to Fay Wray, a before/after comparison of the restoration and two commentaries — make for a nice package indeed.

Film history nuts (especially those fond of the technical stuff), pre-Code fans and those of us who just can’t get enough classic horror really need this Blu-Ray. It shows what can be done these days to bring a beat-up old movie back from the brink — and lets us sit back and really enjoy this creepy old thing like never before. Essential. 

* If London After Midnight suddenly turned up, would you care what kind of shape the print was in — or if the movie was actually any good? I didn’t think so.

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Filed under DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Fay Wray, Pre-Code, Warner Archive, Warner Bros.

Blu-Ray News #298: The Mystery Of The Wax Museum (1933).

Directed by Michael Curtiz
Starring Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Glenda Farrell, Frank McHugh

The headlines today are a big fat drag, so you’ve got to go looking to come up with something positive. Here’s a couple things I found. Last week, the great LA punk band X released its first record with its original lineup in 35 years — and it’s terrific!

Now our friends at Warner Archive have announced a Blu-Ray of The Mystery Of The Wax Museum, a pre-Code (1933) horror movie in two-color Technicolor. Starring Fay Wray and Lionel Atwill, it’s a must for those interested in classic horror stuff — and still plenty creepy. The early Technicolor required such intense lights that the wax figures melted and had to be replaced by actors who stood real still. It was remade as House Of Wax (1953) and ripped off a million times.

Once considered lost, it’s been restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive and The Film Foundation, in association with Warner Bros. Entertainment. Funding came from the George Lucas Family Foundation. (Thanks, y’all!) It’s coming in May. Can’t wait to see this thing!

UDPATE: Here are a couple screen grabs from the restoration. 

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Never thought I’d get a chance to see this looking like that!

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Filed under DVD/Blu-ray News, Fay Wray

Blu-Ray News #117: The Vampire Bat (1933).

Directed by Frank Strayer
Starring Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Melvyn Douglas, Dwight Frye

There’s some great stuff making its way to DVD and Blu-Ray these days. The Film Detective has announced the 1933 horror picture The Vampire Bat, from a UCLA restoration that even recreates the original hand-colored sequence!

Like White Zombie (1932), The Vampire Bat is one of those times when a Poverty Row studio went nuts and came up with something really special. Majestic Pictures signed Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray from Doctor X and Mystery Of The Wax Museum, took advantage of some standing sets on the major lots, and stirred in the great Dwight Frye. It’s a great example of how creepy and crazy a 30s horror movie can get. It’s coming in April, and it’s highly recommended.

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Filed under 30s Horror, DVD/Blu-ray News, Fay Wray, Poverty Row, The Film Detective

The Joel McCrea Blogathon: The Most Dangerous Game (1932) By Guest Blogger Jerry Entract.

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Directed by Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack
Produced by Merian C. Cooper and David O. Selznick
Screenplay by Richard Connell and James Ashmore Creelman
Based on the story by Richard Connell
Cinematography: Henry Gerrard
Film Editior: Archie Marshek
Music by Max Steiner

Cast: Joel McCrea (Robert Rainsford), Fay Wray (Eve Trowbridge), Leslie Banks (Count Zaroff), Robert Armstrong (Martin Trowbridge), Noble Johnson (Ivan), Steve Clemente (Tartar)

joel-mccrea-blogathon-badgeI am delighted to be able to take part in the Joel McCrea Blogathon and would like to thank our host, Toby, for making it possible.

In 1932 Joel McCrea was a coming star. He had done well in The Lost Squadron and had a considerable success with Bird Of Paradise earlier in the year. Tall and very handsome with a pleasing personality.

Merian C. Cooper had already secured RKO’s agreement to shoot King Kong (1933) and wanted to make a film of Richard Connell’s short novel The Most Dangerous Game. The two films were shot concurrently and shared many of the sets, thus saving budget. Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong starred in both — and Max Steiner scored both.

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The story is a great idea of the hunter becoming the hunted. McCrea is shipwrecked and ends up the only survivor on a remote jungle island. He becomes a guest of an exiled Russian aristocrat Count Zaroff and it becomes fairly obvious early on that Zaroff is mad. He sees a wonderful chance at the ultimate ‘game’ – to set a man loose only to be hunted down and torn apart by Zaroff’s pack of hounds. It becomes a game of nerves as McCrea tries to keep ahead of the hounds and their masters, accompanied by Wray, whose dress gets more tattered and revealing as they go (getting in training for King Kong!!).

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I have not yet mentioned the English actor Leslie Banks who played Zaroff. Because it was apparent Zaroff was mad, Banks played it up quite a bit. I have seen him many times in other films, and his playing was generally subtle and underplayed. He certainly added to the tension with his portrayal though. McCrea was just fine in the central role, as one would expect. There were many more fine films ahead for him – Primrose Path (1940), Foreign Correspondent (1940), These Three (1936), Sullivan’s Travels (1941), to name only a few – before he decided to dedicate his career to the Western in 1946.

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Producer Schoedsack directed the jungle scenes whilst Pichel directed the interiors. RKO remade the story in 1946 (A Game Of Death) and again in 1956 (Run For The Sun).

The 1932 original is an enjoyable and gripping little film that still entertains 84 years on! The film has been available on DVD in several releases. Quality unknown to me.

Please feel free to view my other contribution to this Blogathon over at Toby’s other blog 50 Westerns From The 50s.

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Jerry Entract does not run his own blog or have any involvement in the film industry but is an English lifelong movie fan and amateur student of classic cinema (American and British). Main passions are the Western and detective/mystery/film noir. Enjoys seeking out lesser-known (even downright obscure) old movies.

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Filed under Fay Wray, Joel McCrea, Pre-Code, RKO