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In this rarely seen masterwork of the German Expressionist movement, a trilogy of terror is woven around the wax figures of a carnival show. An idealistic young poet (Wilhelm Dieterle, later to become a Hollywood director) is hired to write stories about the Chamber of Horrors' three most notorious figures: Jack the Ripper (Werner Krauss), Ivan the terrible (Conrad Veidt) and Haroun Al-Raschid (Emil Jannings). But as the uncanny tales flow from the poet's pen, he finds himself enveloped in the nightmare worlds of his own creation. One of the most innovative stylists of the German silent cinema, director Paul Leni (The Cat and the Canary, The Man Who Laughs) applied a variety of visual techniques to this ambitious anthology film, drawing from his years as a set designer under the great Max Reinhardt. From the fairy-tale Arabia of the Al-Raschid story (said to have inspired Douglas Fairbanks to make The Thief of Bagdad), to the dark and oppressive kingdom of Ivan the Terrible, to the whirling lights and swordlike shadows of the carnival through which Jack the Ripper stalks the protagonist, Leni managed to raise the techniques of German Expressionism to new conceptual heights.
Lesser-known among silent German classics, Waxworks is a carnival of a movie inviting you to visit three distinct freak shows and sample the thrills and peculiarities each has to offer. A young poet (Wilhelm Dieterle, who became Hollywood director William Dieterle) is hired to pen "startling tales" about three figures on display in the Wachsfigurenkabinett. Somehow he and his boss's daughter (Olga Belajeff) win plum roles in each fantasia he concocts. The Arabian Nights episode, featuring Emil Jannings hamming it up as Caliph Haroun al-Raschid, boasts demented architecture and a blend of comedy and surrealism that inspired Douglas Fairbanks's Thief of Bagdad. Conrad Veidt, making a memorably mad Russian icon of Ivan the Terrible, towers amid episode 2's fiercely angular compositions. Then, still-unnerving double-exposure cinematography is used to bring "Spring Heel Jack" (Werner Krauss's version of Jack the Ripper) out of the realm of fantasy and menacingly into the real-world framing story. Get your ticket right here. --Richard T. Jameson
- Aspect Ratio : 1.33:1
- Is Discontinued By Manufacturer : No
- MPAA rating : NR (Not Rated)
- Product Dimensions : 7.75 x 5.5 x 0.5 inches; 3.61 Ounces
- Item model number : 2254732
- Director : Leo Birinsky, Paul Leni
- Media Format : Multiple Formats, Black & White, NTSC, Silent
- Run time : 1 hour and 23 minutes
- Release date : October 5, 2004
- Actors : Emil Jannings, Conrad Veidt, Werner Krauss, William Dieterle, Olga Belajeff
- Dubbed: : Japanese
- Producers : Alexander Kwartiroff, Leo Birinsky
- Studio : Kino Lorber films
- ASIN : B00006JMQI
- Writers : Hans Brennert, Henrik Galeen, Paul Leni
- Number of discs : 1
- Best Sellers Rank: #100,775 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
- Customer Reviews:
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It is interesting to note that not only does the Blu-Ray application improve both sound and image quality but it can even add something to an already incredible performance. Conrad Veidt's performance of Ivan the Terrible has always been a standout in this film. It should have been titled IVAN THE TERRIBLE AND SELECTED SHORT STORIES. Now that Veidt's facial expressions are more apparent in sharper focus with those flaring nostrils and eye gestures, we have a winner here folks. Always have actually but even more so now. I was floored and taken in with his already classic performance. You can tell he was living it and dragging in every actor around him like a vicious whirlpool. He is scary and obviously into the role.
No wonder Veidt was referred to as the German Lon Chaney. Probably more so for his unusual make-up in THE MAN WHO LAUGHS which is actually accredited to the legendary make-up artist Jack Pierce at Universal. Another Leni winner on Blu-Ray.
Emil Jannings holds his own but hams it up a bit much. Rolling eyes, huge grin and even a few kindly winks. He's THE LAST LAUGH on steroids. Why is he in this famous bad guy collection of wax figures? He comes across as a cuddly stuffed teddy bear...and his story even has a cutesy 'they lived happily ever after' ending. Maybe that is why Leni didn't bother to include the Rinaldo Rinaldini story? Or did he put too much energy into the Ivan story? Burn out? We will never know of course.
Jack-the-Ripper was a good ending but a let down all the same. It seemed rushed and uninvolved to me. Like Leni had to wrap everything up due to restrictions. Oh! It was only a dream. Title card and dissolve. The end.
Included in the discs are needless extra interviews about the film which added absolutely nothing of interest to me. By the way, Mr. Newman, there is a book upside down on the shelf directly behind your head to the right...thanks Blu-Ray! That pretty well blew my attention span.
And, while we are on the subject, I don't think the reason the Rinaldo Rinaldini story wasn't shot was because they could not find an actor to play the part, Duh. Let's see. There are four wax statues posed in the background with the likes of Emil Jannings, Conrad Veidt and Werner Krauss. So the R. Rinaldini actor is a standin after calling the big guys in? There he stands pure as day.
One last negative mention. This time regarding the music. It seems Flicker Alley has been using a young group of musicians to score their films. Take my advice and go for the piano score. It is right on with the emotions and drama this picture needs. I would say perfect. The instrumental version is a real headache. I lasted about five minutes into the film and switched over to the piano score. These instruments are loud (even with a volume change) and distract from everything happening on the screen. It sounds like a jam session gone wrong. I swear these musicians were making it up as they were going along. If you like it, fine. Go for it. Good for you. But I would suggest saving some money and buying the CD and listen to it after the movie.
5-stars still for all around greatness.
Sick of frenetic overexposed Hollywood? Go back to great films like these.
I agree with another reviewer that the confusion of “Jack the Ripper” and “Spring-Heeled Jack” is a bit distracting; did the English-language intertitles create the problem? At least one contemporary German-language movie poster references “Jack the Ripper;” but the segment itself does appear to reference the phantasmic “Spring-Heeled Jack” story more than that of “Jack the Ripper”. Were the British film folks trying to correct what they believed was a mistake? Small matter. Enjoy Conrad Veidt.
Leni was among the apprentice filmmakers and artisans profoundly influenced by Caligari. That inspiration came to fruition in the anthology film Waxworks ( screenplay by Henrik Galeen, also responsible for Golem-1920 and Nosferatu-1922). Leni's breakthrough film is no mere carbon copy of Caligari. Indeed, Waxworks is something of a yardstick for what an anthology film should be. William Dieterle (later an esteemed director whose credits include 1937's Life of Emile Zola, the superior 1939 remake of Hunchback of Notre Dame, and 1940's Dr. Erlich's Magic Bullet) plays several characters, including the poet hired to write an article about wax figures of historical tyrants in a sideshow museum. This framing sequence segues into a fantastic, carnivalesque omnibus. In the first segment, Emil Jannings play Al-Raschid. In this introductory Caliph vignette, Leni's design work with Max Reinhardt is at its most impressive and expansive. The ambiance is, paradoxically, both larger than life and remarkably introverted. Fanciful, intricate roads wind and turn, leading to the Caliph's aberrant belfry. Gloom-laden canvases, crackling signs, and a towering wheel are remnants of a spidery, crepuscular bacchanal. Caligari`s design is comparatively static next to this fluid, humorous, and transcendental Arabian tale.
Conrad Veidt gives a harrowing, anemic performance as Ivan the Terrible. Angular and clammy, this segment is a paranoid fable which ends with a stark, memorable scene of the scourged despot forever turning the hour glass, convinced of his fate (death by poisoning). Leni's use of Eastern Orthodox iconography, inhabiting a shadowy world, is refreshingly and expressively idiosyncratic. Helmar Lerski's cinematography, which proved to be a considerable influence on Eistenstein, aggrandizes Ivan's maniacal state.
The Jack the Ripper finale has been much discussed and is more a sketch than a climax. Werner Krauss plays the infamous Whitechapel serial killer who dominates the shadows, blade in hand, awaiting the poet and his lover. This surreal whisper was originally intended to lead into a fourth narrative based off Vulpius' "Rinaldo Rinaldini." Although the dreaded captain's wax likeness can be seen in several scenes, budget restraints forced that narrative to be deleted.
After Waxworks, Hollywood beckoned. Considering what was to follow in Hitler's Germany, Leni's departure from his homeland may have saved the Jewish artist, but, most cruelly, fate prematurely deprived him, and us, of his life and art.
* My review originally appeared at 366 Weird Movies
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Then comes the film's stand-out performance by Conrad Veidt as a horror comic version of Ivan the Terrible ( the Poet cooks up some lurid prose for this exhibit, but after all, he's writing for the waxwork patron not the historian). This Ivan appears to think that each death of his enemies somehow prolongs his own life. At the segment's chilling end (after some lusty outrages to demonstrate him being Terrible) he is trapped in a truly horrible conceptual world: one in which there can be no death and no escape either: he has now gone mad. This segment compares in impact with the ventriloquist and dummy segment of 'Dead of Night', though that one is placed as the culmination of the 1945 movie rather than its centre. Michael Redgrave probably thought that, with Veidt's performance as precedent, he had a lot to live up to, and indeed he too turns in a career-best performance. Veidt shows what silent acting is all about, with mesmerising glassy gaze and off-centre body postures, and he uses his hands as his 'voice'. If a Chamber of Horrors waxwork really came to 'life', this is how it would behave physically (and morally too perhaps): convincingly all too human and with evil fears and needs geared up to white heat. But at the same time Veidt creates the haunted Tsar as something that is somehow off-centre: not quite 'right' in terms of representing a living human character - more a wax figure passionately seeking to hoard what fierce life it possesses. Like the dummy in 'Dead of Night', the inanimate as character has more power and command than the merely animate.
In the third and last section of the movie, the Poet and his girl, now as their fairground selves rather than fictional historical characters, are pursued through the fair by a knife-wielding Spring-heel Jack in a blizzard of double exposures, montages and distorted images. It turns out to be a dream though, and all ends happily. Both movies come out of world wars, and were made by people who had recent experience of what evil and madness might consist of, and with firm artistic views on how this might be conveyed with conviction and style. What is really monstrous about being human and condemned to mortality, and how will history be remembered in the mental theatre of the waxworks?