Incredibly successful blend of horror and mystery. Not only that, but Mystery of the Wax Museum also has an outstanding comic twist with Glenda Farrell’s performance. And to wrap it up, some evocative impressionistic sets.
Lionel Atwill creates a menacing villain as the vengeful Ivan Igor. There’s a sort of double dose of couples, as Fay Wray and Allen Vincent are the sensible Charlotte and Ralph to the nutty Florence (Farrell) and George (Gavin Gordon). As others have pointed out, Florence seems to be everywhere, shoving the plot ahead with her brash antics and full clip of one-liners.
That she doesn’t quite steal the show is a reflection of Atwill’s presence, and the multi-faceted atmosphere of the museum. Although there’s nothing supernatural going on, Igor is as frightening as any monster. In many ways, his character is similar to that of the Phantom of the Opera: the artist brought down by a hideous disfigurement, hiding out in a tomb-like sanctuary.
Both monstrous villains lure beautiful women to their lairs, only to be frustrated by the authorities. Stealing corpses adds a creepy attribute to Igor’s plan. It does make sense in that he doesn’t think his assistants are good enough to create realistic wax figures without having the real thing as a template.
Fittingly, it’s the underling drug user that links the mystery together; he functions as a sort of unwilling escapee from the museum’s underworld. Ralph, initially naive, literally stumbles into the museum’s horror, as he has to fight it out with Igor to save Charlotte.
The maze-like underground is enhanced with eerie bluish tones, and highlighted by sharp shadows. There’s an almost sci-fi look to the wax apparatus. The nearby warehouse where the bodies pile up has a gritty noir look; a more common sort of evil.
It’s as though the everyday world of the newsroom and police station are oases of civilization where wise-cracking is natural and expected. Without Florence’s hi-jinks, Igor wouldn’t seem as abnormal and repulsive. This movie’s tone is so carefully balanced that nothing seems out of place. Highly recommended, especially as a companion to the 1953 Vincent Price version. 9/10.