Waxworks (1924) – Blu-Ray Review

Waxworks (1924) is an early horror anthology movie directed by Paul Leni. The wraparound story is about a young student (William Dieterle) who is hired to write the backstory of all the figures in the wax museum, which include Jack the Ripper (sort of), Ivan the Terrible and the Caliph of Bagdad. He meets the daughter of the museum owner and falls in love; they then play parts in the stories of the characters as he writes him.

It’s a good anthology, not one of the greatest silent films I’ve ever seen, partly because the pacing is a bit off. Emil Jannings plays Harun al-Rashid (the Caliph)—his career died after he made Nazi propaganda films. That story takes up 50 minutes of the film, although it is perhaps the least interesting of the three. The Ivan the Terrible one stars Conrad Veidt, who appeared in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and later portrayed many Nazis most notably in Casablanca. It later inspired by an Eisenstein films. The Jack the Ripper segment is a sort of dream sequence, which is a mish-mash of Jack the Ripper and the legend of Springheel Jack. A planned fourth sequence about Rinaldo Rinaldini, the “robber captain,” was dropped during production. As you would expect from a German silent in 1924, it does have amazing production design, also by Paul Leni. With that and with two great German actors on hand, it’s a solid film, just not one of the very best.

Leni was a great silent filmmaker: he also directed The Man Who Laughs, which formed the basis for the Joker character in Batman, and the 1927 version of The Cat and the Canary. He did make a part-sound film at the dawn of the talkies, but only the silent version of it has survived. Dieterle later became a respected director in his own right, with films like Blockade, The Life of Émile Zola and The Hunchback of Notre Dame with Charles Laughton.

The version that has survived was the one with English inter-titles. Along with a 2K restoration of this version, the disc features two newly created scores, audio commentary with critic Adrian Martin, and eight of director Leni’s Rebus-Films—animated, two-part puzzle shorts that were shown before and after features. There is also a video interview with Kim Newman about Waxworks and an interview with Julia Wallmüller of Deutsche Kinemathek about the film restoration. The extensive booklet includes material about the restoration, new essays from Philip Kemp and Richard Combs, and production photos and publicity materials.

★★★

Ian Schultz

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