Stars: Emil Jannings, Conrad Veidt, Werner Krauss, William Dieterle
Genre: German Expressionism, Fantasy, Horror
Waxworks is an early anthology film which consists of three stories of ranging genres.
Paul Leni directs, the same man who later went on to direct two great horror classics, The Cat and the Canary and The Man Who Laughs. William Dieterle, who also acts in here, serves as assistant director, he later went on to direct many more films. It's written by Henrik Galeen, who also wrote The Golem and Nosferatu. Alfred Junge was the set decorator, who later worked on many Michael Powell films and even on Hitchcock's original The Man Who Knew Too Much.
Anyway, onto the story. A young poet, played by William Dieterle, accepts a job at a wax museum where he is to write back stories for each of the wax figures.
The first story he writes is for Harun al-Rashid, played wonderfully by Emil Jannings, who you may recognize from more popular films such as Faust, The Last Laugh, The Last Command, The Blue Angel, or Tartuff. It's a nice little tale that involves thievery, adultery, and even a bit of magic. This one definitely falls into the adventure genre and the epic sets definitely reflect that. This first story was also pretty funny at times and even had a hint of slapstick to it.
The second story is about the czar of Russia, Ivan the Terrible, played by one of my favorite actors of the era, Conrad Veidt, who you probably know as Cesare from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari or from his also great performances in The Hands of Orlac, The Man Who Laughs, The Thief of Bagdad, or his later role as the Major in Casablanca. The story itself of this one was kind of boring at first, it's kind of like a historical film that flirts with horror, but the excellent ending made up for it. The sets and costumes are wonderfully dark and twisted.
The third and final story, which is just the poet dreaming, is the most disappointing. It's only five minutes long though so I can't complain much. The poet dreams that he and his girlfriend are being chased by Jack the Ripper...expect the Jack the Ripper is really Spring Heeled Jack. Nothing really happens, he just wakes up and it ends. The sets here are still great, and Jack the Ripper is played by Werner Krauss, who is recognizable as Dr. Caligari from The Cabinet of, and he also co-starred with Emil Jannings in Tartuff. Though his part is very short here, he still does a solid job. This last part just felt very lazy and missed a lot of potential; they had a great character, Jack the Ripper, played by a great actor, in a great setting, but they failed to capitalize on any of that and what could have been amazing ended up being mediocre.
That's really all there is to say about Waxworks. An anthology film that has hints of horror, fantasy, and adventure, with some great talent behind it, though much missed potential. Worth watching for its great visuals and actors.