Hot on the heels of his “31 Days of Hammer” in January, his “31 Days of British Horror” in March and his “31 More Days of British Horror” in May, Jules is travelling across the pond this July with… you guessed it… 31 Days of American Horror!
Director: Michael Curtiz
Starring: Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Glenda Farrell, Frank McHugh
“It’s a cruel irony that you people without souls have hands…”
A mere six months after Warners hit big with Doctor X, they followed it up with, while not an actual sequel, a film that sits nicely beside it in a variety of ways.
There’s a similar tone in it’s very contemporary New York setting and it again features a wise cracking reporter trying to uncover the nefarious goings-on. Actors Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Arthur Edmund Carewe and Thomas Jackson all made a return, as did director Michael Curtiz, art director Anton Grot and cameraman Ray Rennahan. Even Doctor X’s opening theme music by Bernhard Kaun was used yet again.
Okay, it’s not actually a sequel to Doctor X, but it feels like it’s in the same universe, if a slightly more serious one. It’s also just as endearing and entertaining.
Ivan Igor (Lionel Atwill) is a sculptor who operates a fetid but failing wax museum in 1921 London. His business partner Worth (Edwin Maxwell), who after having his suggestion to burn the museum down for the insurance money rejected, leaves him for dead in an inferno after the museum is accidentally set alight anyway after the pair come to blows.
Igor survives despite being badly crippled and 12 years later has relocated to New York City, reopening a new wax museum. His hands and legs are useless though, so he must rely on assistants to recreate his sculptures.
Meanwhile, not-so ace reporter Florence Dempsey (Glenda Farrell), is inches away from being fired by her editor, Jim (Frank McHugh), who gives her one last chance to bring in a story, about the suicide of a model named Joan Gale (Monica Bannister).
Gale becomes the latest in a series of cadavers stolen from the morgue though, and through her connection to roommate Charlotte Duncan (Fay Wray), whose fiancé Ralph (Allen Vincent) works at Igor’s new wax museum, Florence begins to suspect that the missing corpses are being hidden in plain view, albeit under a coating of wax…
Unsurprisingly, this is another absolute belter of a production. The last film to be made using the two-tone Technicolor process, it substitutes the cold green of Doctor X for lush and warm pinks and reds, perfect for stressing the heat of the opening fire, but giving the rest of it a vibrant glow that suits the energy both of the script and the city it’s set in.
Again, it’s refreshingly contemporary, from the bustling scenes of New Year’s in the Big Apple to references to Florence ending up on “the bread line” if she doesn’t get her act together, it’s a film that’s very much set in the modern world of 1933. Anton Grot’s Art Deco stylings play a massive part in conveying this and are typically jaw-dropping, brilliantly managing to be realistic and otherworldly at the same time.
Florence herself is…well, she’s a bit annoying. Evoking Lee Tracy’s reporter in Doctor X, but substituting the pratfalls with stomping about the place with no volume control, she’s hard work at times. Glenda Farrell does a good job with her as written though, bringing a bit of charm and softening the edges just a little, keeping her on the side of tolerable.
Much more charming is Fay Wray as her roommate. It’s not a huge role but she’s as charismatic and natural as ever, making you wonder what she could have given us if her and Farrell’s roles were reversed.
Lionel Atwill gives probably his best performance here, as the genius sculptor who values art and his own talent over lesser humans, even suggesting that they don’t have souls. He’s not the most pleasant of chaps, but Atwill plays him with no small amount of pathos, but with a visible undercurrent of steel. Oh and a bit of ham, obviously. Anyway, he’s marvellous here.
Curtiz rattles the whole thing along at a frantic pace, again evoking the Bog Apple at one of its most iconic periods, pushing the boundaries of what you could get away with on the big screen and delivering yet another horror movie that’s pretty much relentlessly entertaining from start to finish.
The Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy