11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Two overlooked but impressive Universal werewolf films,
This review is from: Werewolf of London / She-Wolf of London (Double Feature) (DVD)
These two films could not be more different, and both are unmistakably distinct from the Universal werewolf films starring Lon Chaney, Jr., as the afflicted Larry Talbot, yet I think they both work marvelously. Many fans don't care for them, especially She-Wolf in London, but I find both films equally compelling. They differ significantly from the storyline running through Chaney's later Wolf Man films, but these two films have a great deal of their own to offer fans. Often overlooked and unduly dismissed by some reviewers and horror fans, these are two classic werewolf films.
Werewolf of London (1935) is actually Universal's first werewolf film - The Wolf Man with Lon Chaney, Jr., would come six years later. In Werewolf of London, botanist Wilfred Glendon (Henry Hull) sees his troubles begin in - of all places - Tibet, where he travels in search of the "Marifasa Lupina," a special flower that blooms only in moonlight. He gets his flower, but he also gets a nasty bite from a werewolf in the process. Back home in London, the flower takes on new meaning when a certain Dr. Yogami (Warner Oland) pays him a visit and expresses his own interest in the plant. Glendon doesn't believe Yogami's wild tales about werewolves - not until, that is, he turns into one that very night.
This isn't your ordinary werewolf. After his transformation, Glendon goes looking for a bloom of the flower (which, while not a cure for his affliction, would prevent him from killing those he loves the most) and then, before heading out into the streets, stops to put on his coat, hat, and scarf. The actual transformations, several of which are shown in the film, are rather impressive for such an early film. He's not overly hairy, but there is a definite look of evil intelligence in his eyes.
Of course, you have to have a leading lady in this type of film, and that role is filled quite well by the lovely Valerie Hobson. Warner Oland gives a memorable performance as Yogami, but I must lavish special attention on three older ladies. Spring Byington is quite a hoot as Glendon's rich lush of an aunt, but Ethel Griffies and Zeffie Tilbury absolutely steal the show as Mrs. Whack and Mrs. Moncaster. These two ladies deliver a comic tour de force as inebriated best friends who take a great interest in Glendon when he comes asking to rent a room from one of them. Back in the old days, movie studios (or more likely, censors) didn't think audiences could withstand all of the frights and chills of a harmless monster movie like this without a few stiff doses of comedy thrown in to the mix - oftentimes, such comic relief failed miserably, but here it is spot on.
Despite the fact that Glendon is as unsympathetic a character as you can find (the antithesis of Lon Chaney, Jr.'s Larry Talbot), I have to give this movie five stars. The plot has a level of complexity to it that adds to its impact, the makeup and special effects are quite impressive, and the film has that unidentifiable something that a good horror movie must have in order to succeed. Werewolf of London isn't as entertaining as Universal's Wolf Man films of the 1940s, but it is definitely worth watching.
She-Wolf of London (1946) rekindles the old traditional horror spirit by recasting the werewolf legend in a framework of psychology and suspense. Most of the comments I read about this movie tend to give the whole idea of the film away, and that's a shame. I went into the movie with no preconceptions, and while I was able to figure out what was going on about halfway through, the film kept me guessing until the very end as to the exact details of the story.
Phyllis Allenby (June Lockhart) should be a happy young lady; she is well off financially and engaged to be married to the man she loves. Unfortunately, though, the "Allenby curse" casts a shadow on her future and supposedly led to the early deaths of her parents. A series of vicious murders in a nearby park points to a big dog or, as one Scotland Yard detective hypothesizes, a werewolf as the culprit. Phyllis awakens one morning to find her shoes muddied and her hands bloodied; when she then hears, at breakfast, that a child was killed during the night, she is sure that the Allenby curse has finally struck her and made her into a she-wolf. She tries to hide herself away in her house, but her fiancée can only stay away so long before he demands the explanation he deserves. The story does a masterful job of building suspense and keeping the ultimate truth about the chronicled events a mystery.
Many fans find this film rather boring, but I thought it was a wonderfully crafted and very enjoyable film. By 1946, audiences had already seen Henry Hull and Lon Chaney, Jr., transform into werewolves on several occasions, and it was nice to break away from that mold momentarily. You don't have to show the audience the actual horrors on the screen in order to make an effective horror movie; without a bunch of special effects to fall back on, such a film requires a tight and efficient script, convincing performances by the players, and the manufacture of an increasingly suspenseful atmosphere. She-Wolf of London fits the bill perfectly.