Daily Archives: April 2, 2017

Werewolf of London (1935)


*. This might be thought of as a damp squib: the first (surviving) werewolf movie, but a film that went nowhere. It did, however, lay down some of the basics of the genre, including the idea that being bitten by a werewolf is what infects you with the werewolf curse, and the way the transformation is brought about by moonlight. These were new elements.
*. There’s also something mentioned about how the werewolf “instinctively seeks to kill the thing it loves best,” but nothing much is done with this in the movie (Dr. Glendon seems more intent on killing his rival), and it was an idea that later werewolf movies didn’t do much with. David in An American Werewolf in London mentions it to Alex, but even in that film it doesn’t really come in to play.
*. Taking a step back, the werewolf mythos has its roots in the Jekyll and Hyde story, where beneath our polished exteriors there lurks a hairy beast. Because this is the earliest telling of the werewolf story on film, the relation to Jekyll and Hyde is clearest, and when Dr. Jekyll– I mean, Dr. Glendon — turns into a werewolf and then dons his hat and scarf to go out on the town we know we’re in an earlier, more civilized werewolf universe.
*. Comparisons to The Wolf Man are, to my mind, not unfavourable (but keep in mind that I’m not a big fan of The Wolf Man). The makeup here was also done by Jack Pierce, but it wasn’t as involved. Basically it’s just a widow’s peak (maybe borrowed from Dracula) and protruding lower fangs. It’s not as hairy a get-up, so it lets Henry Hull act, which is nice. Plus it allows for more transformation scenes than are in The Wolf Man.
*. There are some nice touches. I love that giant carnivorous plant they feed the frog to. I also like how the cat looks really pissed off. I wonder what they were doing to it off camera. Dr. Glendon’s closed-circuit security cameras are way ahead of their time — indeed so much so that the plot couldn’t think of anything to do with them. And I thought the touch of having Dr. Glendon re-enact Christ’s agony in the garden before his second transformation was quite a surprise.


*. Then there are missteps. It’s typical of the love triangles in werewolf movies to be a bit sticky and ambiguous. Even before the end Lisa seems well on her way to an adulterous affair with her old flame Paul (with whom, presumably, she flies away into the credits). The old ladies letting the room are a standard comic bit, and they seem shoehorned in here. Warner Oland, as Dr. Yogami from the University of Carpathia (he’d already become famous as Charlie Chan), could have been a really interesting character, but nothing is done with him. Since the plant only offers a temporary cure for the disease of lycanthropy, it’s hard to even figure out why he’s bothering hunting it down. So he goes a month or two without killing? Then what?
*. I call it “lycanthropy” because that’s it’s name. Here it’s referred to as “werewolfery” (unintentionally funny, and not a word I recall ever hearing again) and “lycanthrophobia,” which suggests something quite different. Chalk it up to this being early days. They didn’t have their story straight.
*. I wouldn’t want to call this a seminal movie, but at the same time I think it would be wrong to overlook it entirely. It doesn’t have the same atmosphere and deeper resonance of The Wolf Man, and probably tries too hard to stay within what were conventions (for example, making the protagonist a scientist), but it’s more than just a footnote. I’m not sure it can be considered the film that properly launched the genre, but it is a kind of missing link between Jekyll and Hyde and where things were going.