House of Wax (1953)

88-90 mins | Horror | 25 April 1953

Director:

Andre DeToth

Writer:

Crane Wilbur

Producer:

Bryan Foy

Editor:

Rudi Fehr

Production Designer:

Stanley Fleischer

Production Company:

Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Full page view
HISTORY

The working title of the film was The Wax Works . In several reviews, Carolyn Jones, who played her first major role in House of Wax , was mistakenly identified by her character's name, "Cathy Gray." According to an Apr 1953 DV news item, actor Ned Young, who played "Leon Averill" in the film, was stripped of all billing after he appeared "vociferously unfriendly" before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. A Feb 1953 HR news item reported that cameraman Robert Burks filled in for Bert Glennon, when the latter fell ill with the flu. During production, Feb 1953 HR news items reported that director Andre De Toth sought nurses and medical assistants to play extras in the chamber of horrors sequences. After three female extras were reported to have fainted during a guillotine scene, De Toth acknowledged that the tight 1890s corsets were partially responsible.
       House of Wax was the first 3-D film produced by a major studio. According to Mar and Apr 1953 HR news items, House of Wax opened at the Downtown Paramount Theatre in Los Angeles with a "round-the-clock premiere," consisting of twelve showings, starting with a midnight "spook premiere" on 16 Apr 1953. This was one of many publicity stunts exhibitors used to promote the film. To experience the special 3-D effects of House of Wax , the audience donned special Polaroid viewers, which cost the theater ten cents each to distribute. According to an undated HR news item found in the AMPAS clipping file for the film, Arch Oboler, who produced the first 3-D film, ... More Less

The working title of the film was The Wax Works . In several reviews, Carolyn Jones, who played her first major role in House of Wax , was mistakenly identified by her character's name, "Cathy Gray." According to an Apr 1953 DV news item, actor Ned Young, who played "Leon Averill" in the film, was stripped of all billing after he appeared "vociferously unfriendly" before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. A Feb 1953 HR news item reported that cameraman Robert Burks filled in for Bert Glennon, when the latter fell ill with the flu. During production, Feb 1953 HR news items reported that director Andre De Toth sought nurses and medical assistants to play extras in the chamber of horrors sequences. After three female extras were reported to have fainted during a guillotine scene, De Toth acknowledged that the tight 1890s corsets were partially responsible.
       House of Wax was the first 3-D film produced by a major studio. According to Mar and Apr 1953 HR news items, House of Wax opened at the Downtown Paramount Theatre in Los Angeles with a "round-the-clock premiere," consisting of twelve showings, starting with a midnight "spook premiere" on 16 Apr 1953. This was one of many publicity stunts exhibitors used to promote the film. To experience the special 3-D effects of House of Wax , the audience donned special Polaroid viewers, which cost the theater ten cents each to distribute. According to an undated HR news item found in the AMPAS clipping file for the film, Arch Oboler, who produced the first 3-D film, Bwana Devil , sent sample pairs of "Magic-Vuers" polarized glasses to film reviewers before the House of Wax premiere, claiming they were more comfortable than the Polaroid viewers distributed by the theaters and had a larger viewing surface. The cost of the Polaroid viewers were tacked onto the admission price.
       According to a Var article, film executives, after finding that the higher admission price had not scared away New York teenaged patrons, speculated whether the draw was due to the novelty of 3-D or the opening stage-show headliner, popular singer Eddie Fisher. Other articles discussed how some theaters shrewdly itemized the prices for admission and the 3-D viewers, thereby decreasing the prevailing twenty percent Federal admissions tax. The high ticket prices and novelty of 3-D inspired a Ohio store, McKelvey's, to print a full page Jantzen swimsuit ad in a Youngstown, OH paper that made light of the film. After the Independent Theatre Owners of Ohio, who considered the ad "one of the most vicious pieces of copy ever seen," notified Warner Bros., the studio threatened action, which resulted in a retraction of the ad.
       Although most reviewers found the plot of House of Wax to be "serviceable" at best, they praised the picture's 3-D photography, which they felt was superior to previous 3-D fares, as well as its stereophonic sound. The HR , Newsweek and NYT reviewers found House of Wax to be the best example of 3-D photography to date and commended the paddle ball and can-can dancer scenes as being particularly effective. However, the DV review applauded the WarnerPhonic sound as the most important technological feat of the film and the HR reviewer predicted that stereophonic sound, was "here to stay." However, the NYT reviewer, complained about the "intolerable artlessness of its sound," which was "thrown and howled at the audience" as if to "overwhelm" with "brutal stimuli." A May 1953 NYT letter to the editor accused the producers of irresponsibility toward the public and prayed "for guidance from an enlightened government."
       According to a May 1953 Var article, House of Wax was the longest running film at the New York Paramount Theatre in four years and was expected to generate for the house one of the largest returns in its history. Although, as some reviewers predicted, the film became a tremendous box office hit and was successful enough for exhibitors to pay for the installation of special stereophonic and 3-D equipment, according to a Var article, by Jun 1953, the film had almost run out of equipped theaters.
       According to an Aug 1971 DV news item, Stereovision+International&sortType=sortByExactMatch'>Stereovision International paid Warner Bros. for a two-year license to reissue House of Wax as a single strip 3-D. In Dec 1971, a HR news item reported that House of Wax producer Bryan Foy had filed a complaint with the Producers Association and considered suing Stereovision for omitting his name from ads and promos for the reissue. Jul 1972 DV and HR articles reported that Milton L. Gunzberg, who served as Natural Vision supervisor for House of Wax and the 1953 Warner Bros. Charge at Feather River , filed suits against Warner Bros., Stereovision executive Al Silliphant, Seven Arts and Sherpix International for failing to credit him for photographing the two pictures and for failing to pay him his share of the profits, as called for in a contractual agreement.
       Charles Belden's story was originally used as the basis of the 1933 Warner Bros. film Mystery of the Wax Museum . For more information about that film and other productions based on it, see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 . Another version of House of Wax , directed by Jaume Collet-Serra and starring Elisha Cuthbert and Chad Michael Murray, was released by Warner Bros. in 2005. That version had a modern setting, involving a college road trip. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Cinematographer
1 May 53
pp. 218-19, 242-43, 245
American Cinematographer
Jun 53
p. 298.
Box Office
25 Apr 1953.
---
Daily Variety
10 Apr 53
p. 3.
Daily Variety
15 Apr 1953.
---
Daily Variety
23 Apr 1953.
---
Daily Variety
3 Aug 1971.
---
Daily Variety
14 Jul 1972.
---
Film Daily
10 Apr 53
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Jan 53
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Jan 53
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Jan 53
p. 10, 19.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Jan 53
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Feb 53
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Feb 53
p. 15.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Feb 53
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Feb 53
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Feb 53
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Feb 53
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Mar 53
p. 15.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Mar 1953.
---
Hollywood Reporter
1 Apr 53
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Apr 53
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Apr 53
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Apr 1953.
---
Hollywood Reporter
14 Dec 1971.
---
Hollywood Reporter
14 Jul 1972.
---
Los Angeles Examiner
18 Apr 1953.
---
Los Angeles Times
27 Apr 1953.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
18 Apr 53
p. 1798.
New York Times
11 Apr 53
p. 15.
Newsweek
27 Apr 1953.
---
Time
28 Sep 1953.
---
Variety
15 Apr 53
p. 6.
Variety
29 Apr 1953.
---
Variety
20 May 1953.
---
Variety
3 Jun 1953.
---
Variety
17 Jun 1953.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Warner Bros.--First National Picture
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCER
Prod
WRITERS
From a story by
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
Stills
ART DIRECTOR
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
COSTUMES
SOUND
VISUAL EFFECTS
Natural Vision supv
Visual consultant
Natural Vision consultant
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
The Wax Works
Release Date:
25 April 1953
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 10 April 1953
Los Angeles opening: 16 April 1953
Production Date:
19 January--21 February 1953
Copyright Claimant:
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
21 May 1953
Copyright Number:
LP2596
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Sound System
Color
WarnerColor
Widescreen/ratio
Natural Vision 3-D
Duration(in mins):
88-90
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
16385
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In the 1890s, in New York City, Matthew Burke, part-owner of a wax museum, needs money and is impatient over his partner's, the refined and eccentric wax sculptor, Prof. Henry Jarrod's, insistence that the museum avoid lucrative sensationalism. For the insurance money, Burke sets fire to the museum. Jarrod, horrified to see his exquisite wax figures of famous historical people, which he considers "friends," melt away, fights Burke and tries to put out the flames, until gas fumes unite with the fire and the building explodes. Later, Burke receives all of the insurance money, as Jarrod is believed to be dead, but Burke is then killed and left dangling in an elevator shaft. At a boardinghouse, a giddy, promiscuous blonde, Cathy Gray, who was dating Burke, is found dead in her room by her friend and fellow boarder, Sue Allen. Sue is chased out the window and through the streets by a man in black, until she takes refuge with friends of her family, Mrs. Andrews and her son Scott. The next day, when the Andrewses and Sue visit the police, Lt. Tom Brennan mentions that Cathy's body, as well as several others, have disappeared from the morgue. Meanwhile, Sidney Wallace, a wealthy financier, is contacted by a wheelchair bound Jarrod, who has survived the fire, but claims that he suffered permanent loss of his hands and legs. As he can no longer sculpt, Jarrod has hired assistants, the deaf-mute Igor and talented sculptor Leon Averill, to help him recreate his wax figures, and using a new procedure he has devised, build another museum. Jarrod says that, as he can no longer create beauty, he plans to make a ... +


In the 1890s, in New York City, Matthew Burke, part-owner of a wax museum, needs money and is impatient over his partner's, the refined and eccentric wax sculptor, Prof. Henry Jarrod's, insistence that the museum avoid lucrative sensationalism. For the insurance money, Burke sets fire to the museum. Jarrod, horrified to see his exquisite wax figures of famous historical people, which he considers "friends," melt away, fights Burke and tries to put out the flames, until gas fumes unite with the fire and the building explodes. Later, Burke receives all of the insurance money, as Jarrod is believed to be dead, but Burke is then killed and left dangling in an elevator shaft. At a boardinghouse, a giddy, promiscuous blonde, Cathy Gray, who was dating Burke, is found dead in her room by her friend and fellow boarder, Sue Allen. Sue is chased out the window and through the streets by a man in black, until she takes refuge with friends of her family, Mrs. Andrews and her son Scott. The next day, when the Andrewses and Sue visit the police, Lt. Tom Brennan mentions that Cathy's body, as well as several others, have disappeared from the morgue. Meanwhile, Sidney Wallace, a wealthy financier, is contacted by a wheelchair bound Jarrod, who has survived the fire, but claims that he suffered permanent loss of his hands and legs. As he can no longer sculpt, Jarrod has hired assistants, the deaf-mute Igor and talented sculptor Leon Averill, to help him recreate his wax figures, and using a new procedure he has devised, build another museum. Jarrod says that, as he can no longer create beauty, he plans to make a horror museum and expects that the museum will be profitable. After being shown Jarrod's basement laboratory, where plaster-of-paris figures are dipped in a vat of boiling wax, Wallace agrees to finance the museum. Scott, who has grown fond of Sue, takes her on opening day to the Grand Wax Museum and Chamber of Horrors, where they wander through recreations of executions by electrocution, torture and guillotine, as well as recent events, such as the mysterious hanging of Burke. When Sue sees the figure of Joan of Arc, she is shocked by its likeness to Cathy, which, except for its dark hair, is exact, even to its pierced ears. After Wallace introduces Scott and Sue to Jarrod, the sculptor remarks that Sue resembles his favorite creation, Marie Antoinette, who was destroyed in the fire, and offers Scott, who is also a sculptor, work in the museum. Sue's concern about the wax Joan of Arc's likeness to Cathy prompts Scott to take her to visit Brennan, who promises to investigate further. Brennan and his men check out the museum and find that the wax figure of John Wilkes Booth bears striking resemblance to a murdered city official, whose body recently disappeared. Brennan and Sgt. Jim Shane interview Wallace about Jarrod and his assistants, and later Shane remembers that an alcoholic prisoner in Sing Sing, who painted a recreation of "The Last Supper" in his cell, was recently paroled. They pick up Leon for questioning and after finding on him an inscribed watch belonging to the missing man, continue the interrogation. At dusk, Sue goes to the museum to meet Scott for a date and enters the darkened establishment. She again approaches the figure of Joan of Arc and still troubled by it, climbs up for a closer look. When she inadvertently knocks off the brown wig, she finds blonde hair underneath and exclaims to herself that it is Cathy's body. Jarrod, whose dependence on a wheelchair was feigned, sneaks up behind her and, after confirming her suspicion, chases her around the museum. When her struggling causes a plaster mask to break off from his disfigured face, she faints. Meanwhile, at the police station, after being plied with drinks, Leon confesses that Jarrod uses real corpses dipped in wax for his exhibits and that the body of the missing city official is on exhibit as Booth. Leon goes on to confess that Cathy was killed for her resemblance to Jarrod's vision of Joan of Arc and that Burke was killed in revenge for setting fire to the original wax museum. When Leon informs them that Jarrod wants Sue as his Marie Antoinette, the police race to the museum. Scott, who is waiting outside the museum for Sue, goes in and is confronted by Igor, who wants to behead him with the guillotine. The police arrive in time to save Scott, then break down the laboratory door. Inside they find that Jarrod is preparing to dip the drugged and naked Sue into a vat of wax. Just before her body is lowered into the cauldron, Brennan turns off the control switch and covers Sue with his jacket. While trying to escape the police, Jarrod falls into the vat and dies. Later, at the station, Scott and Sue thank Brennan for his help and Sue expresses an additional thanks for the use of his coat. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.