Director: Stuart Walker
Writer: John Colton
Cast: Henry Hull, Warner Oland, Valerie Hobson, Lester Matthews, Lawrence Grant, Spring Byington, Clark Williams, J.M. Kerrigan, Charlotte Granville, Ethel Griffies, Zeffie Tilbury, and Jeanne Bartlett
Composer: Karl Hajos
Release Date: 5/13/1935
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
While combing the mountains of Tibet in search of a rare flower, botanist Wilfred Glendon (Henry Hull) is attacked by a vicious animal. Upon returning to England, Glendon learns from fellow botanist Dr. Yogami (Warner Oland) that a “werewolf” will prowl the streets of London come nightfall. Glendon initially scoffs at Yogami’s claim, but later finds himself afflicted by the curse of the werewolf—a consequence of having been bitten by the beast in question. In the end, only the coveted mariphasa plant can save Glendon from killing his wife Lisa (Valerie Hobson) while under the spell of a full moon.
The inaugural mainstream werewolf picture, Werewolf of London more closely resembles a typical Jekyll and Hyde outing than The Wolf Man—Universal Studios’ second and in many ways superior interpretation of the werewolf legend. A chilling atmosphere stemming from excellent locational choices will, however, appeal to fans of classic monster movies.
By employing a variety of obscuring camera angles, Werewolf of London effectively disguises the primitive methods through which makeup artist Jack Pierce accomplished his man-to-beast transformations. Though an unconcealed visage may prevent Henry Hull’s werewolf from paralleling the animalistic ferocity of Lon Chaney, Jr.’s Wolf Man (a problem that becomes most distracting when the werewolf dons a cloak and hat as if preparing for a graceful evening stroll), Glendon nevertheless maintains a frightening and occasionally nasty presence by stalking, snarling, and clawing at his mortified victims.
Also worth mentioning, an eerie mist accentuates many dimly illuminated street corners while establishing the ideal setting for a werewolf to commit his vile deeds. The Goose Lane murder in particular occurs absent a single witness, thereby allowing the werewolf to remain an elusive figure until his appropriately timed reveal in the climactic sequence (the director of The Wolf Man remake would have been wise to consider a similar approach). It should likewise be noted that Glendon’s penultimate transformation takes place in a decrepit castle sprinkled with cobwebs and secured via steel bars, a trademark of almost every iconic horror film produced during the 1930s.
The bumbling antics of two female innkeepers detract from the solemnness of Hull’s performance, especially following his violent escape from a self-imposed prison.
Having failed to convey a tragic sense of pathos, Hull never quite made credible the conflict central to Hollywood’s modern werewolf formula—a stark contrast to Chaney, whose Larry Talbot portrayal has evoked sympathy for nearly seventy-five years. That being said, Glendon’s fervent pleas for divine intervention indicate that, unlike Dracula and the Mummy, the “monster” in this offering does not savor the malevolent forces that prompt him to prey upon unsuspecting innocents. In addition, the struggle inherent to Yogami’s character compensates for the lack of passion undermining Glendon’s werewolf (however, the benevolent manner exemplified by Warner Oland is translated poorly during the final act, wherein Yogami attempts to steal the remaining mariphasa blossoms for his own benefit).
While Werewolf of London may forever be dwarfed in popularity by The Wolf Man, this early effort should nonetheless be commended for introducing and solidifying a number of themes that would impact the horror genre for decades to come. Universal Monster enthusiasts are therefore advised to view this simple but fascinating production, even though the revealing appearance of Hull’s werewolf pales in comparison to Pierce’s work on the aforementioned The Wolf Man.
Overall Quality: 7/10
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