AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
Name Occurs Before Title Offscreen Credit Print Viewed By AFI
Mystery of the Wax Museum
Alternate Title: Wax Museum
Director: Michael Curtiz (Dir)
Release Date:   18 Feb 1933
Premiere Information:   New York opening: week of 16 Feb 1933
Production Date:   began week of 8 Oct 1932
Duration (in mins):   72 or 75
Print this page
Display Movie Summary

Cast:   Lionel Atwill (Mr. Igor)  
    Fay Wray (Charlotte Duncan)  
    Glenda Farrell (Florence Dempsey)  
    Frank McHugh (Editor)  
    Allen Vincent (Ralph Burton)  
    Gavin Gordon (George Winton)  
    Edwin Maxwell (Joe Worth)  
    Holmes Herbert (Dr. Rasmussen)  
    Claude King    
    Arthur Edmund Carewe (Sparrow)  
    Thomas [E.] Jackson (Detective)  
    DeWitt Jennings (Captain of police)  
    Matthew Betz (Hugo)  
    Monica Bannister (Joan Gale)  
    Pat O'Malley (Plain clothes man)  
    Bull Anderson (The Janitor)  

Summary: In London in 1921, Mr. Igor's critically successful wax museum is burned down by his partner for the insurance money. Igor is trapped in the flames and all his work is destroyed. Twelve years later in New York, Igor watches from his window while the body of Joan Gale is taken to the morgue. Her rich young boyfriend, George Winton, is arrested for her murder, but when an autopsy is ordered, the police find the body has been stolen. Wisecracking reporter Florence Dempsey decides she will prove Winton's innocence. She accompanies her roommate Charlotte Duncan to Igor's new wax museum to visit Charlotte's fiancĂ© Ralph Burton, Igor's assistant. There, Florence is struck by the resemblance between a wax statue of Joan of Arc and the dead Joan Gale. When Winton is released from prison on bail, he and Florence follow Igor's drug addict assistant, Sparrow, hoping to find out the truth about the museum. Meanwhile, Igor has trapped Charlotte in the museum. He tells her that because his hands were damaged in the fire, preventing him from sculpting, he has been killing people who resemble his burned statues, and once they are dipped in wax, he displays them. He plans to immortalize Charlotte as Marie Antoinette. She screams in response, and hearing her cries, Ralph breaks into the museum. He struggles with Igor, who falls into a vat of wax and dies. Florence gets her story and a surprise proposal from Jim, her editor. 

Production Company: Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.  
Distribution Company: Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.  
  The Vitaphone Corp.  
Director: Michael Curtiz (Dir)
  Frank Shaw (Asst dir)
  Lee Katz (Asst dir)
Writer: Don Mullaly (Scr)
  Carl Erickson (Scr)
  Charles S. Belden (Story)
Photography: Ray Rennahan (Dir of photog)
  Roy Musgrave (2d cam)
  Sam Brooks (Asst cam)
  Floyd Lee (Asst cam)
  Charles Scott Welbourne (Still photog)
Art Direction: Anton Grot (Art dir)
Film Editor: George Amy (Ed)
Costumes: Orry-Kelly (Gowns)
Sound: E. A. Brown (Sd)
Production Misc: Claude Hutchimson (Chief elec)
  Chuck Davis (Chief grip)
  Limey Plews (Props)
Country: United States

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc. 3/2/1933 dd/mm/yyyy LP3623

Physical Properties: col: Technicolor

Genre: Mystery
Subjects (Major): Betrayal
Subjects (Minor): Arson
  Drug addicts
  London (England)
  Women reporters

Note: This film was also known as Wax Museum . It was the last film to be made with the two-color Technicolor process. Some contemporary sources refer to Charles S. Belden's story as a play. Andre de Toth directed a 3-D version of the story called House of Wax in 1953 starring Vincent Price, which was also released by Warner Bros. Although a TV series based on the idea was to have been made, it did not make it to television and the pilot was released as the theatrical feature Chamber of Horrors in 1966 (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70 ; F6.0733). Roger Corman also used the basic story in Bucket of Blood in 1959. Modern sources state that a large photographic blow-up of a scene featuring Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray was used as a theatrical backdrop in The Florentine Dagger directed by Robert Florey in 1935. According to modern sources, the enormous heat generated by the lights needed for the two-color process made the wax figures melt, so in most scenes, the figures were played by actors. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Film Daily   18 Feb 33   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   23 Dec 32   p. 3.
International Photographer   1 Jun 33   p. 13.
Motion Picture Herald   7 Jan 33   p. 23.
New York Times   18 Feb 33   p. 13.
Variety   21 Feb 33   p. 14.

Display Movie Summary
The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
Advanced Search
Support our efforts to preserve hisotory of film
Help AFI Preserve Film History

© 2017 American Film Institute.
All rights reserved.
Terms of use.