Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, July 16, 2019


Wax museums have been a standard trope in horror and fantasy movies for many years.  Let's go back nearly a century and see how the theme was handled in Germany.

William Dieterle plays a writer hired by the owner (John Gottowt) of the waxworks to come up with stories about three of the wax figures.  The owner has a beautiful daughter (Olga Belejeff, sometimes spelled Belajeff) who captures the heart of the writer, so in each of the three tales he casts himself as the hero and the girl as his love interest.  The three wax figures are of Haroun al-Raschid (Emil Jannings), Ivan the Terrible (Conrad Veidt), and Jack the Ripper (Werner Krauss).

Thought to be director Paul Leni's greatest film during his German period, The Waxworks is an obvious homage to 1920's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari., even casting the earlier film's two stars in The Waxworks.  (And with the addition of Emil Jannings, Leni had the three most important German actors of the time in his movie.)  The stylized sets and use of dark and light helped make Leni (who also was an acclaimed art director) one whose German expressionist influence can be seen in Russia's Eisenstein and in the works from Universal and RKO in the 1930s and 1940s.  Leni worked at Universal for several years and made the classic Cat and the Canary and the Charlie Chan mystery The Chinese Parrot (both 1927).  Leni died in 1924 from an untreated tooth infection at the age of 44.

The three episodes in The Waxworks range from the amusing, to the suspenseful, and to the horrifying Well, not that horrifying, perhaps).  While The Waxworks does not rise to the level of
Caligari or Nosferatu, it is a remarkable, entertaining film.


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