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  Waxworks Playing Statues
Year: 1924
Director: Leo Birinsky, Paul Leni
Stars: Emil Jannings, Conrad Veidt, Werner Krauss, William Dieterle, Olga Belajeff, Paul Biensfeldt, John Gottowt, Georg John, Ernst Legal
Genre: Horror, Historical, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: A funfair where the public of Germany like to spend their time on the rides, seeing the sideshows, and winning prizes, but one such member of the public (William Dieterle) is there for a different reason, he wants a job. He has seen an advertisement in the newspaper asking for a writer to publicise the funfair's wax museum, so he believes he's the man for the post, and as an unemployed poet he ventures into the place and introduces himself to the elderly owner and his daughter (Olga Belajeff). They tell him if he can pen exciting accounts of three of the waxworks in front of him, he will be financially rewarded, so he sets to work...

There are a few points of note about Waxworks, or Der Wachsfigurenkabinett, as it was originally titled in Germany, and most of them are about its cast and crew, for the common take on the film was that as a horror, it was something of a letdown once you actually saw it, for a film of its reputation. Yet if you regarded it as not merely a horror, but a mixture of styles attempting to do justice to its ambitious vision, you would get along with it better - for a start, you could see why they ran out of money on this anthology movie, necessitating the abandonment of a fourth tale and leaving three episodes instead; well, two and a bit, at any rate.

Dieterle would of course become a successful director in Hollywood once his acting days were behind him, and as with a lot of German cinema talent, key members of Waxworks would flee the Nazis of the nineteen-thirties. Director Paul Leni was shaping up for a stellar career there, helming some extremely promising efforts including the silent The Cat and the Canary before his untimely demise of septicaemia. The three German acting heavyweights who led each segment had mixed fortunes afterwards: Conrad Veidt was the most successful, moving from Britain to Hollywood and appearing in megahits like The Thief of Bagdad and Casablanca.

Funny he should make the Arabian Nights movie, because the first tale here was precisely that, so impressing action star Douglas Fairbanks that he made the silent Thief of Bagdad as an answer to this, and Veidt was the villain in the remake. Emil Jannings, who would be far more benevolently recalled had he not made the fatal mistake of throwing his not-inconsiderable weight behind the Nazis, was the Middle Eastern king who gets mixed up with a baker's wife here, his broad, eye-rolling performance typical of him, but Veidt, while kind of typical too in his descent into insanity as Ivan the Terrible (in a not very historically accurate yarn), impressed more, since given the chance as he was here, he could be one of the most intense actors around.

Veidt and Werner Krauss had been the stars of the film that set off the German expressionist movement, specifically in horror, with The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, but Krauss had far less to do here. Odd, then, that most of the attention rested on his shoulders for this film, for he played Jack the Ripper in a nightmare sequence that lasted a minute or two, yet had a hallucinatory quality that rendered it very effective as the daughter was chased through stylised, Caligari-esque sets by the serial killer. Even more oddly, the English-language version (the only one which survives, the original German being lost) called him Spring-Heeled Jack, who was a different scary figure entirely, albeit sharing a possible variety of identities behind the catch-all nickname as the Ripper did. Also worth noting, the screenplay was credited to Henrik Galeen, a not very well-known name, but someone partly responsible for early horror touchstones like the scripts for Nosferatu, The Golem and The Student of Prague. If this intermittently lived up to the expectations placed upon it, it was nevertheless full of interest.

[Eureka release this on Blu-ray with these features:

Limited Edition O-Card slipcase [First Print Run of 2000 copies ONLY]
1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a new 2K restoration
Option of two newly created scores, by Ensemble Musikfabrik; and composer Richard Siedhoff
Audio commentary with Australian film and arts critic Adrian Martin
Paul Leni's Rebus-Film Nr. 1-8 - Courtesy of Kino Lorber, these Leni-helmed cinematic crossword puzzles were originally screened in 1920s German cinemas as featurettes accompanying the main film. Each of these animated shorts was split into two parts - a clue and an answer - and presented before and after the visual presentation
In search of the original version of Paul Leni's Das Wachsfigurenkabinett - An interview with Julia Wallmüller (Deutsche Kinemathek) based on her presentation after the premiere of the restored film at Il Cinema Ritrovato festival in Bologna 2020
Kim Newman on Waxworks - An in-depth, on-camera interview with journalist, film critic, and fiction writer Kim Newman about the legacy of Waxworks
PLUS: A collector's booklet featuring new essays by Philip Kemp and Richard Combs on the film's history and significance; notes on the restoration process by the Deutsche Kinemathek; and rarely seen production photographs and promotional material.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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