The Mystery of the Wax Museum begins in London in the 1920s. Lionel Atwill plays Ivan Igor, a brilliant sculptor who manages a wax museum. Regarding his historical creations as his friends, Igor refuses the entreaties of his business partner, Joe Worth (Edwin Maxwell), to turn his labor-of-love museum into a more profitable "house of horror." Worth responds by setting fire to the museum, hoping to collect the insurance; as Igor looks on in horror, his effigies of Marie Antoinette, Queen Victoria, et al. grotesquely melt to the floor. Flash-forward to 1933: New York City is plagued by several disappearances -- not only of live people, but of recently deceased corpses from the morgue. Hard-boiled girl reporter Florence Dempsey (Glenda Farrell) browbeats her long-suffering editor Jim(Frank McHugh) into investigating these disappearances. Florence rooms with Charlotte Duncan (Fay Wray), the girlfriend of Ralph Burton (Allen Vincent), who works as a technician at a new midtown wax museum. This about-to-open attraction is run by Igor, who had survived the London fire but is now confined to a wheelchair. Igor's old enemy Worth is also in New York, his fingers in several crooked pies. It appears to Florence (and the audience) that somehow Worth is involved in the recent rash of disappearances; the guilty party could also be playboy George Winton (Gavin Gordon), Florence's boyfriend, who is deeply in debt to Worth. But once Igor decides that Charlotte is the living image of Marie Antoinette, the audience becomes uncomfortably suspicious that all those incredibly life-like statues in his museum are actually the paraffin-coated bodies of the missing people. Igor tips his hand when a terrified Charlotte, promised "eternal life" by being "transformed" into an Antoinette effigy, begins punching and clawing at his face -- revealing his countenance to be a mask, covering his hideously burned and gnarled features. Thus, the stage is set for the climactic race to prevent the strapped-down Charlotte from being permanently encased in wax. Long thought lost, The Mystery of the Wax Museum was rediscovered in Jack Warner's personal film collection in 1970. Its two-color Technicolor had faded to the point of monochrome, but fortunately its original hues were preserved by dedicated AFI technicians. The film was remade (and considerably simplified) as the 1953 3-D extravaganza House of Wax, with Vincent Price in the Atwill role.
by Hal Erickson synopsis