|Werewolf of London / She-Wolf of London|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 28 August 2001|
A few years ago, Universal Home Video released many of its horror classics as well-produced DVDs. David J. Skal produced discs with loads of extras, including commentary tracks, documentaries, trailers, and other features. The titles including almost all the greatest horror movies in the Universal library -- "Frankenstein," "Dracula," "The Mummy," "The Invisible Man," etc. -- but only one, "Creature from the Black Lagoon," of their 1950s sci-fi classics. And one sequel: "Bride of Frankenstein."
Now they've released six more discs, overpriced at $30 retail (though lower prices can be found online), even if each disc includes two movies. They've all been grouped together in a reasonable manner -- the four "Kharis" mummy movies are spread over two discs, for example. However, packaging the just-this-side-of-a-classic "WereWolf of London" with the dull, routine "She-Wolf of London" feels hasty and ill-conceived. The new sets are just above bare-bones in terms of extras: there are trailers and brief, but very informative, production notes (written by Tom Weaver).
"WereWolf of London" is actually the first half-man, half-wolf werewolf movie ever made; there were a few silent werewolf films, in which someone changes all the way into a wolf. But the familiar, hairy, fanged human-shaped monster was born with "WereWolf of London." Universal's makeup makestro Jack Pierce created the strange, smooth-faced, widow's-peaked beast-man, toning down the original design to satisfy star Henry Hull. (But he used a variation on his original design later on for "The Wolf Man.")
The title was probably chosen to relate to Guy Endore's best-selling novel "The Werewolf of Paris;" however, the foggy, cobblestoned London streets, even when played by the Universal back lot, are an appropriate setting for the horror story. Even if it does begin in Tibet.
Botanist Dr. Wilfred Glendon (Hull) is warned off a particular remote valley that no one has returned from, which does raise the question of how he knows the flower he seeks, the moon-blooming Mariphasa, grows there. In any event, just as he finds the flower, he's bitten by a hairy beast in the shape of a man.
Back in London, he has recovered, except for a big scar on his arm; he's having trouble getting his transplanted Mariphasa plants to bloom, whether by his artificial moonlight or the light of the real thing. He's also a cold, stiff man, somewhat estranged from his younger wife Lisa (Valerie Hobson).
When a mysterious Dr. Yogami (Warner Oland) arrives, ostensibly to view the flower, Glendon is shocked to learn he's met Yogami before -- the stranger was the werewolf who bit him. And now, he says, Glendon himself is a werewolf, and werewolves are always driven to kill the thing they love the most. Meanwhile, they have to kill someone every night of the full moon. Only the Mariphasa blossom is a temporary antidote to "werewolfery."
Even though it's only 75 minutes, "WereWolf of London" tends to be somewhat draggy; there's not very much werewolf action, and there's a lot of talk. In his script, John Colton clearly wanted Glendon to be afraid of expressing emotions; the werewolf is an expression of repression, so to speak. But it doesn't lead anywhere; the outburst of rage, personified by the monster, is hardly liberating; it's just destructive. As he dies at the end, Glendon murmurs that in a few moments, he will know why all this had to be. But we don't know. Things aren't helped by Hull's remote performance as the human Glendon, but he's a remarkably agile werewolf, wiry, prepared and energetic. Even as a human being, Hall has dark and glittery eyes.
The first transformation is very effective. Glendon sits alone in his study, accompanied by a drowsy cat -- that suddenly rouses itself to spit, snarl, and finally bolt from the room. Apprehensive Glendon wanders down a hall; as he passes pillars, his makeup changes until he's the complete werewolf.
The supporting cast is adequate, with Oland and Hobson both standouts. Bat-eared Lester Matthews, as Lisa's former (and, of course, future) lover, makes little impression. Evidently inspired by Una O'Connor and other supporting players in the James Whale movies, "WereWolf of London" features several funny-old-lady roles, from the upper crust Aunt Ettie Coombes (sweet, cracked Spring Byington), to the boozing old widows, Mrs. Whack (Ethel Griffies) and Mrs. Moncaster (Zeffie Tilbury). They're forever declaring their undying friendship, and forever braining one another for a new tenant or a bottle of gin.
Stuart Walker was a director for only four years -- this is one of his last films. He continued as producer of B-movies and series films until his death in 1941. He's able to generate considerable atmosphere now and then, partly thanks to excellent, if somewhat limited, art direction by Albert S. D'Agostino and cinemtography by Charles J. Stumar. Glendon's garden has several carnivorous plants, big, well designed props; one slowly waves long, thick tentacles.
The print on the DVD is in excellent shape, with sharp rendering of detail and good contrast, though the original negative seems to be rather soft. The sound is good for the period, though the track is slightly crackly at times.
"She-Wolf of London" features a well-used plot. Unlike "WereWolf of London," which was contemporary, "She-Wolf" has a period setting, somewhere around the turn of the 20th century. Beautiful young Phyllis Allenby (June Lockhart) lives in the family mansion with her "aunt" Martha Winthrop (Sara Haden) and Martha's beautiful daughter Carol (Jan Wiley). Phyllis is engaged to semi-dashing Barry Lanfield (Don Porter), of noble birth, but she suddenly calls off the engagement.
Meanwhile, what Scotland Yard detective Latham (Lloyd Corrigan) is convinced is a werewolf has killed a small child in a nearby park. More killings follow, with Phyllis awakening to discover her dressing gown damp, her slippers muddy, and (barely seen) blood all over her hands. She's sure she's inherited "the curse of the Allenbys" (the title the film had in England), though we're never really told what the curse is.
"She-Wolf of London" -- no connection other than title to the later TV series -- is ponderous, extremely gabby and set-bound. Very little happens on screen, and what does happen, happens slowly. The movie seems a great deal longer than "WereWolf of London," though it's almost 15 minutes shorter. The plotting is crude and hackneyed; almost anyone will realize what's going on fifteen minutes in; it's a long, weary wait until the "explanation."
Production values are very strong, though the park with its dead, dried bushes tends to look a little silly, even with the frequent "fog." Undoubtedly, the huge mansion sets were built for other movies, and merely redressed for this one, but that was standard practice for studios in those days (and often even today).
The acting is perfectly competent, though none of the Americans in the cast even try to do an English accent; since the British actors do have accents, it tends to make scenes with both Brits and Yanks sound rather strange.
But movies like this weren't intended to be convincing; all they had to do was to keep the audience from walking out for an hour. Since "She-Wolf of London" isn't really terrible, it probably achieved that goal. However, if you buy this DVD, you might watch "WereWolf of London" every so often down through the years, but you're not likely to watch "She-Wolf of London" more than once.