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An energetic Glenda Farrell and a screaming Fay Wray solve the secret of those wax mannequins

  • May 9, 2012
  • by
The Mystery of the Wax Museum is more mystery than horror, but the secret of Ivan Igor (Lionel Atwill), which comes by way of a sharp crack to his head, is satisfyingly startling. Despite the age of the movie (it was made in 1932), it holds up as a half campy, half affectionate look at what made our grandparents or great grandparents jump in their seats.
The plot has to do with a genius of wax who creates tableaux featuring wax mannequins of famous dead people. When his business partner wants more money and less artistry, the result is a fire for insurance that leaves Igor dead...or so it seems. Years later a new wax museum opens in New York and a resurrected Ivan Igor is behind it. Now he uses assistants to actually create his amazingly lifelike models, since his hands, he says, were severely burned in that fire. Of course, there seem to be a number of disappearances, most likely murders, that are happening around this time. Could there be a connection? A young woman who is searching for her missing roommate, a boyfriend who works for Igor and a very determined female reporter are going to find out.
I liked four things about the movie. First, the look of all those wax mannequins. I'd bet that they were all extras with a little artificial makeup, then posed motionless for the few seconds the camera would linger on them. They had a creepy quality about them that I don't think could have been achieved by using artificial heads. Second, Lionel Atwill. He was a good actor who settled comfortably into B movies in the Thirties and either never wanted to leave the steady money or was never offered a chance later after he had become type-cast. I've always found him to be worth watching, whether as a villainous businessman, a mad scientist or a monster. Third, Glenda Farrell as Florence Dempsey, the blond, feisty reporter who breaks the case. She may only have third billing, but she's the real star of the movie. She later parlayed that character into a series as Torchey Blane in seven movies between 1937 and 1939. Torchey is a fast-talking, energetic, impulsive reporter who carries all before her. She's vivid but best in small doses. That's the kind of character Glenda Farrell often played, and that's who Florence Dempsey is, too. And fourth, the wise-cracking relationship between Florence and her editor boss, played by Frank McHugh. It's funny and affectionate...and the movie ends with a smile when Florence picks love over money. As far as Fay Wray, she looks good and screams a lot.
The early Technicolor process gives the movie a lot of charm
An energetic Glenda Farrell and a screaming Fay Wray solve the secret of those wax mannequins An energetic Glenda Farrell and a screaming Fay Wray solve the secret of those wax mannequins An energetic Glenda Farrell and a screaming Fay Wray solve the secret of those wax mannequins An energetic Glenda Farrell and a screaming Fay Wray solve the secret of those wax mannequins

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More The Mystery of the Wax Museum reviews
review by . July 24, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
*** out of ****     There is one fatal flaw to "Mystery of the Wax Museum". It does not have the twist that it wants to have. Thanks to the existence of plot synopses and the like, we already know what the big reveal is going to be. That's not to say that the film has a bad ending, but it is underwhelming compared to the fear that we are intended to experience.    Otherwise, the movie still makes for a pretty solid, creepy time. It is thoroughly entertaining. …
About the reviewer
C. O. DeRiemer ()
Ranked #32
Since I retired in 1995 I have tried to hone skills in muttering to myself, writing and napping. At 75, I live in one of those places where one moves from independent living to hospice. I expect to begin … more
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In London, sculptor Ivan Igor struggles in vain to prevent his partner Worth from burning his wax museum...and his 'children.' Years later, Igor starts a new museum in New York, but his maimed hands confine him to directing lesser artists.

People begin disappearing (including a corpse from the morgue); Igor takes a sinister interest in Charlotte Duncan, fiancée of his assistant Ralph, but arouses the suspicions of Charlotte's roommate, wisecracking reporter Florence. Written by Rod Crawford <puffinus@u.washington.edu>

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