1921 London, and Mr. Igor (well, that's his name) is renowned for his lifelike wax sculptures. His wax museum is losing money, though, so his financier decides to burn the place down for the insurance and things get really ugly with all those wax figures melting and Igor trapped in the fire so let's skip ahead a dozen years to then-modern-day New York. Igor has a new wax museum and a staff to create his figures, because he's crippled and bent up because of the fire. Turns out, though, that he's actually putting corpses sealed in wax on display, and when he finds his perfect Marie Antoinette and she just happens to not be a corpse yet, he decides to rectify that situation to speed things along. A nosy paperwoman and her editor/boyfriend interfere the best they can.
A fine, fine pre-code horror film with a terrific cast: Lionel Atwill is the mad sculptor, Glenda Farrell is the sob sister, Fay Wray is his roomie and prospective dead Empress of France, and Frank McHugh is the editor.
Glenda, describing the corpse stealer: "It hobbled and swayed like a monkey! And the FACE! From the glimpse I got of it, it was like an African war mask!"
Detective: "You mean he was colored?"
Glenda: "I don't know WHAT he was but he made FRANKENSTEIN look like a LILY!"
The film's history is as spotty as the image has always been; it was lost, then it was B&W only instead of its original two-strip Technicolor, then a print was found in the estate of Jack Warner, then some additional materials showed up. The DVD releases (paired with its remake, the more famous House of Wax with Vincent Price) were, we were told, as good as the film could look, but I predicted several years ago that someday we'd have a nice restoration, and that someday is now, courtesy of UCLA, The Film Foundation, George Lucas, and Warner Bros. This is a stunning Blu-ray; check out the included comparison reel for what they managed to accomplish with the materials they had, it's like magic.
The disc includes two audio commentary tracks and a documentary on Fay Wray, and it's the Disc of the Year so far. Don't miss it.