Mystery of the Wax Museum
If ever there was the perfect pairing of films for a "double feature" disc, than MGM/UA's recent Doctor X/Mystery of the Wax Museum surely holds reign. Both films were directed by Michael Curtiz, both star genre favorites Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray, and best of all, both appear in their original two-color Technicolor versions!
The title character of Doctor X is better known as Dr. Xavier (Atwill), a prominent scientist who runs a medical college/research laboratory. One night, his research is interrupted by a visit from the police, who wish to speak to him about the sinister "moon" murderer roaming the street (a psychopath who kills people only during the full moon). Annoying newspaper reporter Lee (Lee Tracy) has been hot on the trail of the killer for quite some time, and has gathered up enough information to trace him to Dr. Xavier's school. The police want to rush in and take charge of the situation, but Xavier, fearful of his and his school's reputation, bargains with the police - he will find the killer using his own subtle scientific methods, within a couple of days, or else the police can take full control. Unfortunately, Xavier finds more than he bargained for as the trail leads him face-to-face with cannibalism, synthetic flesh, and eventually our "moon" fiend. Fay Wray is Joan, Xavier's continually-screaming, ever-in-danger daughter. An early horror film classic, and a must for all genre fans, featuring great stars, sets and use of color.
Doctor X vanished from sight and became a "lost" film for nearly 30 years, until a black & white print turned up in the 1960's. The only problem was that Doctor X was also filmed in an early two-color Technicolor process (which is slightly different from the separately-shot black & white version), and that version was still missing -- at least until the early 1970's, when a color print finally turned up and was subsequently restored by the UCLA Film Archives. However, remember that Doctor X won't look like Gone With the Wind - although restored as best as possible, the film dates from 1933 and was "lost" for many years, and thus there are ever-present rough spots. Scratches, splices, a softish image, and other blemishes are readily apparent, but just the same, I wasn't bothered by any of it and was rather pleased with the picture quality. Most changeovers are rough, with an exceptionally rough one popping up on side one at 9m12s. The CX-encoded Vitaphone mono source is usually in very rough shape, being noisy, harsh, scratchy and/or indistinct. MGM/UA has included a neat, original black & white theatrical trailer for Doctor X on the disc, which looks beautiful but has muddy audio. Doctor X is encoded with 18 listed chapter markers, and one additional for the trailer.
Mystery of the Wax Museum opens in 1921 London, with Atwill portraying sculpting genius Ivan Igor, whose wax figures of prominent female historical personalities are unparalleled. But Igor's beautiful collection is completely destroyed, as was nearly his life, when his business partner sets fire to the museum. The film then shifts to 1933 New York -- the now old and crippled Igor has opened a new wax museum in town, corpses have started vanishing around the city, and wisecracking newspaper reporter Florence (Glenda Farrell) notices that there's a very big resemblance between the missing corpses and some of the wax figures on display in the museum. Could there be some sinister connection between the three, or is it all just a strange coincidence? What do you think...? Fay Wray is Charlotte Duncan, a gal whom Igor has great plans for, since she resembles his great destroyed masterpiece, Marie Antoinette. A terrific film, even better than Doctor X!
Just like Doctor X, Mystery of the Wax Museum was apparently missing from sight for many a year, but is now back in circulation for all to enjoy. Filmed in the two-color Technicolor process in 1933, Mystery looks very good for its age and history, although it has more than its share of rough edges. Splices, scratches, speckles, a soft focus, and other blemishes are common, but are nowhere near distracting enough to take away from viewing the movie. What did bother me a bit was one segment on side two, from 38m41s to 46m07s, which featured a continual band of print speckles on the left side of the screen (this is print damage, not a disc-related problem). Besides that, the color is fairly good and the film very watchable. The CX-encoded Vitaphone mono source is rough, as you might have expected. The film has 23 listed chapter markers.
This two-disc set was pressed at Pioneer and comes packaged inside a gatefold jacket featuring some choice stills. While MGM/UA did a nice job on this double-feature, they dropped the ball on one aspect -- Doctor X and Mystery of the Wax Museum are spread over three disc sides, with Mystery starting halfway through side two. It's a shame that MGM/UA didn't put one film per disc, and each with its own CAV side, but at least the films are available on laser. One other question comes to mind, however - since the color version of Doctor X is here to stay, does that mean the alternate black & white edition will vanish from filmgoer's sights?
Review by Jeff Krispow
Original Published in "Pond
Original Review: 07/92
Last Updated: 04/20/97