Waxworks (1924) – reviewed by George

I thought this German expressionist film would be a horror film, but it seems to me that it is a drama with horror elements.
At a carnival, still going strong after dark due to lots of lights, and sporting blue-tint, a young man (William Dieterle) is answering an ad for “An imaginative writer for publicity work in a wax works exhibition. Apply Booth 10, Luna Park.” He meets the Showman (John Gottowt) and his daughter (Olga Belejeff). He is told that he must write stories about the three principle wax figures: Haroun-al-Raschid, Caliph of Bagdad (Emil Jannings); Ivan the Terrible, Czar of all the Russias (Conrad Veidt); and Jack the Ripper, or Spring-Heeled Jack (Werner Krauss).
The first story is almost comical. The Caliph is infuriated that he has lost a chess game to his Grand Vizier, but chooses to take his anger out on a baker, whose stove is putting out a lot of smoke. The baker Assad and his wife, one of the most beautiful women in the country, are played by Dieterle and Belejeff. The Vizier is supposed to kill the baker, but the man escapes, and later tells his wife that he will steal the Wishing Ring right off the Caliph’s hand. Disguises and romantic confusion complete the plot. And there is a severed arm.
The story about Ivan the Terrible is pretty horrible, since he poisons his political prisoners and watches them die. A noble comes to see him one day to be sure that the Czar is still coming to his daughter’s wedding, and Ivan says, sure, but I will go as you and drive the sled, while you go as me and we’ll see if you make the trip alive. Assassins attack and there is a somber ending. But Ivan goes mad, so there’s a form of justice.
The third sequence is the writer’s dream of Jack the Ripper stalking him and the Showman’s daughter.
The film is great to look at; almost every scene is tinted. And the acting, and the direction by Paul Leni, are great as well. My only caveat is that by today’s standards it seems a trifle slow. And not horrible enough.

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