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Film / Mystery of the Wax Museum

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Mystery of the Wax Museum is a 1933 horror film directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Lionel Atwill, Glenda Farrell, and Fay Wray.

When sculptor Ivan Igor's wax museum is burned down by his treacherous partner, he is left devastated. Ten years later in then-present day New York, he opens a new museum, with more lifelike statues than ever before....

Mystery of the Wax Museum was the last dramatic film made in the old two-strip Technicolor process. This method of color photography, which produced a distinctive set of pastels, dated back to The Toll of the Sea in 1922. Yes, color films are older than sound films. The three-strip Technicolor process, which produced a richer palette, replaced it around this time.

This film was later remade as House of Wax (1953) which in turn was remade as House of Wax (2005).

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This film provides examples of:

  • Alliterative Name: Ivan Igor, who also has Two First Names.
  • Asshole Victim: Joe, Ivan's former partner who is still running shady deals (booze-related mostly) after burning down Ivan's first wax museum and leaving his partner to die in the flames.
  • Battle Amongst the Flames: Joe and Ivan start fighting each other as Ivan's first wax museum burns down around them.
  • Can Only Move the Eyes: Charlotte passes a few statues, whose gaze follow her.
  • Chairman of the Brawl: The cops get a wheelchair thrown at them in the climax.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Florence, who can't seem to have a conversation without snarking at her interlocutor.
  • Damsel in Distress: Charlotte in the climax, as she is under threat of becoming a waxed corpse.
  • Dramatic Unmask: Igor's wax mask is shattered.
  • Evil Cripple; Ivan Igor: The wheelchair turns out to be Obfuscating Disability, but his hands are genuinely crippled.
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  • Facial Horror: The hideously disfigured bodysnatcher who is seen at work throughout the film. This is actually Ivan Igor's real face.
  • Fainting: When Charlotte is shown the truth behind the wax museum, she faints.
  • Freudian Slip: After realizing that the wax statue of Joan of Arc is really a corpse of Joan Gale, Florence rushes out of the museum and farewells Ivan with "see you in jail".
  • Hard-Drinking Party Girl: Florence. She spends much of the movie half-sloshed, helps herself to multiple bottles from a bootleggers stash (in front of the police), and her stated goal is to marry a millionaire. None of this stops her from doing her job as an Intrepid Reporter.
  • Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: The events in New York start just after the New Year Has Come.
  • Insurance Fraud: Joe burned down Ivan's previous wax museum to get his hands on the fire insurance to clear away their debts.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Florence, who proceeds headfirst into danger to get a story.
  • Karmic Death: Ivan eventually murders his former partner Joe, who destroyed his first wax museum and crippled Ivan himself.
  • Latex Perfection: Ivan conceals his disfigured features beneath a wax mask that is so perfect that no one standing near him ever even suspects it is a mask.
  • Mad Artist: Ivan is determined to restore his previous creations, no matter the cost.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Igor appears to need either a wheelchair or crutches to get around due to the injuries he sustained in the fine. However, it turns out that while his hands are crippled, his legs work just fine.
  • Perp Sweating: Cops keep questioning Darcy, and he spills the beans on Ivan's operation as he starts going cold turkey from his drug addiction.
  • The Reveal: After Igor gets up from his wheelchair and grabs Charlotte while ranting about his Marie Antoinette, she starts hitting his face, which crumbles away to reveal that it was a rather convincing wax mask and that he was the disfigured bodysnatcher seen throughout the film all along.
  • Screaming Woman: Charlotte's descent into the workroom is nothing a series of screams, as the screams at everything from the reveal of Igor's true face to a door closing.
  • Scenery Gorn: The burning wax museum in the opening.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: In the end of Florence's and her editor's bickering, he suddenly proposes her and she accepts.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Doctor X. The two films aren't part of the same continuity, but they overlap in genre (though Mystery of the Wax Museum lacks most of Doctor X's comedy elements), share the same director and several cast and crew members, and are filmed in the same visually-distinctive Technicolor process. In addition, both films include morgue scenes, wax statues (though they only appear briefly in Doctor X), multiple characters portrayed as having disabilities (including a villain who is more able than he lets on), and a plot based on investigative reporting.
  • Strapped to an Operating Table: Charlotte is tied to a table for the waxing procedure.
  • Time Skip: From 1921 London to 1933 New York.
  • Wax Museum Morgue: As Ivan is incapable of reconstructing his previous body of work, he has corpses delivered to him to be waxed.
  • You're Insane!: Ivan's response when Joe tells him about the fire insurance fraud.


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