Monday, October 11, 2010

“The werewolf is neither man nor wolf, but a Satanic creature with the worst qualities of both.”

The end of our journey into Universal’s classic werewolf movies jumps back to the 1930s. 1935 to be specific, with the very first Hollywood werewolf movie, Werewolf Of London (sounds familiar, yeah? Where do you think Warren Zevon got inspired from?). As far as werewolves go, its much different from the classic Lon Chaney one, but is that a bad thing? Well, the box office seemed to think so, since the movie didn’t do well.

What it boils down to is the search for a rare flower, the mariphasa in Nepal. Botanist Dr. Wilfred Glendon (Henry Hull) enters a forbidden, remote valley and finds bit, but is attacked by a werewolf almost immediately. He manages to fight it off, but is bitten in the process. Glendon returns to England with the plant but can’t seem to get it to bloom (it only does so under the full moon). At a party he meets the mysterious Dr. Yogami (Swedish actor Warner Oland who is best known for playing Asian Detective Charlie Chan) who knows an awful lot about the flower and lycanthropy. The flower is apparently able to stave off (but not cure) “werewolfery” during the full moon. Glendon’s obsession with the plant strains things with his wife Lisa (the very attractive Valerie Hobson) and she turns to an old friend Paul Ames (Lester Matthews) for help.

Directed by Stuart Walker, cinematography by Charles J. Stumar. Visually, there are a lot of ambitious and impressive shots in this film, particularly during the werewolf scenes. The werewolf makeup by Jack Pierce is radically different from the later Larry Talbot version, with most of Dr. Glendon’s face visible and a passable similarity to some versions of Mr. Hyde. Regardless, I rather like some of the werewolf’s “going out clothes” with the scarf and flat cap. It’s a distinct look.

Story by Robert Harris, Screenplay by John Colton & the uncredited Harvey Gates, Robert Harris and Edmund Pearson. The movie was compared to Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (and part of the reason it didn’t light up the box office). There’s also some weird word choices, like calling lycanthropy “lycanthrophobia.” Still, it is very much a werewolf movie, just from a time before those things were codified.

The original music by Karl Hajos works fine but isn’t up to par with the more iconic Universal soundtracks.

Werewolf of London is actually a very impressive and well made movie. I don’t mean to knock the Larry Talbot version because I love watching Chaney as the Wolf Man, but its unfortunate that a gem like this was so thoroughly overshadowed. Thankfully sets like the Universal Horror Legacy Collection corrects this. Wholeheartedly recommended.

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