Monday, 1 June 2009

No. 145 : Werewolf of London

Having recently reviewed one of the most recent werewolf films let’s have a look at one of the earliest. ‘Werewolf of London’ dates from 1935, several years before Lon Chaney Jnr. made the monster famous in ‘The Wolf Man’. This effort is very dated and seems more like a comedy than the horror that the dramatic score suggests. It doesn’t even have Warren Zevon on the soundtrack - what a rip off!

We open on a sun baked ‘Tibet’ which looks suspiciously like that California desert where they always film ‘Star Trek’. On checking I found that the whole effort was shot in California so let’s hope for some authentic London touches later on. Anyway, our hero is an adventurer botanist who is in Tibet to locate a rare flower that only blossoms by moon light. He manages to find one in a valley where no one has ever emerged from but gets bitten by a man in a mask for his troubles.

Back in London our hero, Dr Glendon, holds a society bash and is met by a mysterious Dr Yogami who needs some of the flowers to help some werewolf men who are terrorising London. Clearly seeing him as a nutter Glendon sends him n his way but gets a bit concerned when his hands go hairy - mother always warned me about that. He finds that the juice of the plant stops the onset of wolfiness but is in trouble when an unseen robber steals the last of the blooms.

The next full moon Glendon transforms and after scaring a society lady chooses to kill a well dressed street walker instead. The police are obviously baffled and choose to ignore the young detective who guesses the wolf related problem at once. Glendon reads up on his situation and sees that he’s most likely to kill the one he loves most and so chooses to move away to a remote boarding house run by a nice drunk lady. After another killing he returns home to get some more flowers, only to be met by Yogami who has a similar need for the blooms. We learn the two have met in the past and soon realise that there is only one way this is going to end.

Although by no means a classic there is a lot to like in this film. It’s very of it’s pre-war day with the ladies knowing their place and everyone being very mannered except for the working classes who are all drunks. There are only two killings, both off screen, and both victims ‘deserved it’, one being a prostitute and the other an adulteress. The werewolf itself is extremely non scary with the costume consisting on some hairy gloves and a wig. The transformations are done in a very rudimentary fashion with cuts visible as our man passes some pillars, growing more hairy at each shot. Later on match cuts are used but these look too obvious to be convincing.

The wolf man himself is a strange creature, choosing to put on his coat, scarf and cap before heading out on a blood frenzy - doesn’t he realise that he’s got a fur coat on? He’s also a bit wimpy getting beaten up by an upper class twit - I guess they had to show these common wolf types their place. ‘London’ looked OK and they wisely kept away from any landmarks. The streets are all fog and carriage lamps and there are enough English character actors peppered about to keep things somewhat on topic.

Most of the acting is dreadful with a lot of dramatic pauses where the actors struggle to remember their lines or at least utter the fanciful dialogue they’ve been given. Worst of the bunch was Warner Oland as the enigmatic Dr Yogami whose slow delivery accounts for about half of the film’s 70 minute running time. He is better known as cinema’s Charlie Chan, a stereotype far more suited to abilities.

Many of the familiar werewolf conventions are missing with no silver bullets in sight although he does go to visit wolves in the zoo - a scene laterreprised in ‘An American Werewolf in London’. The film doesn’t scare in the slightest but as an oddity it’s quite interesting both in terms of the genre and of the period as a whole. The class divide shown is unimaginable today in terms of the portrayal of the working classes and their expendability. The toffs on the other hand are a bunch of party going gadabouts, so no change there then!

Best Bit : Boarding house banter
‘W’ Rating 13/23

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