Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)

Director Michael Curtiz' and Warner Bros.' Technicolored (two-strip colors of greens and reds), 79 minute expressionistic mystery-horror film was the next effort to capitalize on the success of the similar Doctor X (1932); it was the last significant feature film to be made with the two-color Technicolor process.

The exciting and frightening gothic horror film again starred Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray; the initially-lost film was remade by director Andre De Toth as House of Wax (1953) (in 3-D), starring Vincent Price. Roger Corman's Bucket of Blood (1959) also used a similar storyline. The Pre-Code film was noted for its female leads prancing around in silky underwear or tight outfits, heroin and drug addiction, sexy double-entendre dialogue, bootlegging and multiple murders:

  • in the crime thriller's opening, set in 1921 London - brilliant sculptor Mr. Ivan Igor (Lionel Atwill) had set up a critically-successful Wax Museum, his labor of love, that was filled with beautiful and artistic wax creations of historical personages (he called them his "children"); he was proud of his life-like creatures that he produced with "the warmth and flesh and blood of life far more better in wax than in cold stone"; on the other hand, his unscrupulous and sinister business partner Joe Worth (Edwin Maxwell) was concerned about a 15,000 pounds deficit and unpaid rent, and was intent on turning the museum (with only "artistic nonsense") into a morbid and more commercially-successful "house of horror"
  • the spiteful and treacherous Joe betrayed his partner and set Igor's beloved museum on fire, in an effort to collect 10,000 pounds in fire insurance money; in a striking sequence inside the museum, as the two fought and struggled amidst the flames, Igor was trapped and all his lifelike wax images burned and hideously melted away and were ultimately destroyed; an unconscious Igor was left to die in the conflagration as the building was collapsing, but he awakened and watched with anguish as his "children" perished (statues of Joan of Arc, Voltaire, Marie Antoinette, Queen Victoria and more)
Fight Between Joe Worth and Ivan Igor
Melting Wax Figures in Museum Fire
Death to Igor ?
Igor Regained Consciousness - Helpless to Save Wax Figures
  • twelve years later in New York City in 1933 on New Years Eve, Igor watched from his curtained window while the body of a suicidal victim, model and drug-using socialite Joan Gale (Monica Bannister) was taken to the morgue in an ambulance; after two attendants left the morgue after their late shift, a figure sat up on a sheet-covered morgue table - it was a mysterious, face-scarred man who then lowered one of the wrapped-up cadavers through a window to his assistants below in the alley
  • wisecracking, spunky, fast-talking and hard-boiled city reporter Florence Dempsey (Glenda Farrell) for the New York Express was pressured by her impatient editor Jim (Frank McHugh) to report a new story by the next edition or he threatened her firing; in the meantime, a wooden coffin box (marked "Fragile") was delivered to Joe Worth's remote warehouse; heroin drug-addicted Professor D'Arcy/Sparrow (Arthur Edmund Carewe) was apparently being supplied with drugs and working for Joe Worth
  • the suicide victim Joan Gale's rich young "millionaire playboy" boyfriend, George Winton (Gavin Gordon) was arrested for her murder; Florence became suspicious and began following the story
  • an autopsy was ordered on Joan's body (suspecting that she had accidentally died of laudanum poisoning), but the coroner discovered that her corpse was missing - presumably the one delivered earlier to Joe Worth; Florence visited Winton in jail at the Tombs and was easily convinced of his innocence (he was getting "a raw deal"); Florence told her boss that there was a plague of mysterious suicides, murders and missing bodies in NYC: "Eight bodies have been stolen in New York in the last 18 months"
  • in midtown NYC on 14th Street, crippled and wheelchair-bound Ivan Igor opened up a new museum titled: "London Wax Museum"; it was revealed that Professor D'Arcy was also employed as an assistant by Igor as one of his sculptors; D'Arcy delivered his newest work, a waxed statue of Joan of Arc, to the museum (it suspiciously looked like the murdered Joan Gale)
  • Florence accompanied her demure and innocent roommate Charlotte Duncan (Fay Wray) to Igor's new wax museum to visit Charlotte's fiancée Ralph Burton (Allen Vincent), a sculptor serving as one of Igor's sculptor-assistants; in the museum, Florence was shocked to see the clear resemblance between a recently-completed Joan of Arc wax statue exhibit and the dead Joan Gale
  • in addition, Igor approached Charlotte and told her that she was the long-lost face of his destroyed masterpiece Marie Antoinette ("I knew you before you were born. Before this terrible thing happened to me, I made a very beautiful statue. And my child, you are that figure come to life"); he requested that she pose for her sculpture to be created (by Professor D'Arcy); suspicions were raised - were the museum's statues possibly paraffin-coated bodies of the missing corpses?
  • after the museum's evening opening, Winton (released from prison on bail) drove Florence, while they were following D'Arcy, to Joe Worth's remote warehouse; she learned that Winton was deeply in debt to Joe Worth; in the cellar, she hid from the scarred-faced man and found a wooden box; she reported her find to police (hypothesizing it held Joan Gale's body); she described the man's looks: "He made Frankenstein look like a lily"; the box was found to only hold illegal whiskey (Worth was a bootlegger)
  • shortly later at the police station, while suffering drug withdrawal, the arrested junkie D'Arcy was forced to confess to the police (after they found missing Judge Ramsey's watch in his possession) that Igor was having him collect bodies that resembled historical figures, including Ramsey: "All right, I'll talk. I'll tell you all I know! Ramsey was murdered because he looked like Voltaire...He's a statue, a silly wax statue....It was Igor at the Wax Museum.... You'll find your Judge embalmed in wax. He's a statue of Voltaire, together with the other corpses. I tell you, the whole place is a morgue"
  • meanwhile, back in the museum, Igor (filmed from a high angle) confronted Charlotte trapped in his locked basement laboratory (with a prominent vat of bubbling wax); the insane Igor rose from his wheel chair (he had been faking being crippled with crutches) and grabbed her with an insane look - he promised her immortality by being reborn into a Marie Antoinette effigy: "You'll help me to give back to the world - my masterpiece. My Marie Antoinette." She screamed as he continued: "Immortality has been the dream, the inspiration of mankind through the ages. And I am going to give you immortality....I have no desire to hurt you. You will always be beautiful. Think, my child, in a thousand years, you will be as lovely as you are now"
Igor Rising From His Wheelchair (Without Crutches)
  • in the famous "unmasking" sequence, Charlotte began screaming: "Let me go!", punching with her fists and clawing at Igor's face; his waxy face-mask cracked to reveal his scarred, hideous, loathesome and burned facial features underneath; she screamed again: (Charlotte: "Your face was of wax! You fiend!"); he responded by calling her "My Marie Antoinette" - and showing her the waxed body of his real mortal "fiend" and enemy Joe Worth in an upright coffin box ("There was a fiend and this is what he did to me")
Climactic "Unmasking" Sequence of Igor
(Similar to the "Unmasking" Scene in
Phantom of the Opera (1924))
  • Igor confessed that his damaged hands 12 years earlier (because of Joe Worth) had prevented him from sculpting; he had finally found the "fiend" and settled their account - he opened the coffin to reveal the mummified, stiff corpse of Joe Worth - the body fell face forward to the floor; to stock his new museum, Igor had been forced to find corpses or kill people (who resembled his burned statues), dip or permanently encase them in wax, and then display them
  • in the climactic ending, Ralph heard her screams and came to her rescue but after a brief fight he was knocked unconscious; Charlotte had fainted and was strapped down by her wrists on a gurney beneath a nozzle of molten wax, ready to be encased: ("Your beauty will be preserved forever"); as he prepared to inject a lethal dose via a hypodermic needle into Charlotte, the police arrived; Igor struggled with officers and fled onto a catwalk, where he was gunned down and fell into his own giant cauldron of boiling-hot wax and perished; Charlotte was saved in the nick of time by a revived Ralph from being covered in hot wax on the table
Igor Preparing Charlotte For Waxing - A Death Injection
  • in the short epilogue at her desk, Florence wrote up her exclusive scoop on the story, and also received a surprise proposal from her hard-nosed editor Jim in his office: "Cut out this crazy business, act like a lady. Marry me"; she thought about her other option, Winton, but then decisively responded: "I'm gonna get even with you, ya dirty stiff. I'll do it" - and they kissed

Igor Survived Fire - Reappeared in NY in 1933

Joan Gale Suicide

Mysterious Figure with Scarred Face Rising Up From Under Sheet in Morgue

Plucky Reporter Florence Dempsey (Glenda Farrell) with Editor Jim (Frank McHugh)

New Museum Opening in NYC in 1933

New Statue of Joan of Arc

Charlotte (Fay Wray) - Told By Igor That She Looked Like His Marie Antoinette Waxed Statue

D'Arcy Confessing to Police: "It was Igor at the Wax Museum...The whole place is a morgue!"

Igor Revealing to Charlotte the Mummified Body of "Fiendish" Joe Worth in a Coffin Box

The Museum's Giant Bubbling Vat of Wax

Shot on Catwalk - Death of Igor in Hot Wax Cauldron

Final Image: Marriage Proposal For Florence


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