Mystery of the Wax Museum (Michael Curtiz / U.S., 1933):

The émigré artist's gruesome dilemma, the Michael Curtiz position. Historical figures are the forte of the erudite sculptor (Lionel Atwill), his London exhibit can't possibly compete with a rival's flair for the macabre, up in smoke it goes. (Lifeless eyeballs and limbs animated by flames are gorgeously uncanny things, vide Buñuel's recollection in Ensayo de un Crimen.) New beginnings, new blood—New Year's Eve in Manhattan locates a fresh corpse amid the confetti and streamers, the slangy reporter (Glenda Farrell) is on the case. "I gotta find news if I have to bite a dog!" Atwill on wheelchair with charred hands might be the blinded Delius, the stickler for anatomy (nothing but realism for his effigies of Voltaire, Joan of Arc, Napoleon) keeps the graverobbers busy. The newshound's roommate (Fay Wray) turns up for the museum's opening and the villain has a vision of his lost chef-d'oeuvre, Marie Antoinette in the flesh. "Something cockeyed about that joint..." That Old World grisliness includes Phantom of the Opera passageways from Anton Grot plus a certain ewig Weibliche zieht uns hinan, smartasses and bootleggers and hopheads swell the modern city, and Curtiz manages a constant, captivating shuttling between them. The faded, two-strip Technicolor beautifully enhances the various tableaux, salmon pinks and sickly greens like the opposing poles of the fiend's search for immortality. Eyes that move on a death mask and skin that cracks before fury, and there's Wray strapped to a table underneath a vat of bubbling wax, just a little gift for Franju. "Work that up into a comic strip and syndicate it." Cinematography by Ray Rennahan. With Frank McHugh, Allen Vincent, Gavin Gordon, Edwin Maxwell, and Arthur Edmund Carewe.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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