Wednesday, October 02, 2013
31 Werewolves | Werewolf of London
1941's The Wolf Man may be Universal's most famous werewolf movie, but it wasn't their first one. That would be 1935's Werewolf of London, which is also the first Hollywood werewolf movie period.
Unfortunately, Werewolf of London borrows a lot of elements from other popular Universal monster movies. Henry Hull is doing a good Colin Clive impression as Wilfred Glendon, an obsessed doctor married to the understanding, but impatient Lisa (Valerie Hobson). Hobson played a similar role as Elizabeth to Clive's mad scientist in Bride of Frankenstein that same year. And then there's Warner Oland, during the height of his Charlie Chan popularity, putting on the yellow-face again to play the enigmatic Dr. Yogami, a Van Helsing-like character who knows a lot about werewolves if only someone would believe him.
Werewolf of London also borrows from a classic, non-Universal monster movie: 1931's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Doctor Glendon owes a lot to Jekyll. They're both serious scientists, but good men with devoted servants and loving women in their lives. They're also both afflicted with curses that cause them to lose control and indulge their passions, which leads both of them to sneak out of their labs through secret entrances and take up residences in shady parts of London. The Jekyll/Hyde story has a lot in common with werewolf themes and Werewolf of London makes a lot of use of that.
Even though Werewolf of London rehashes a lot of '30s monster movie tropes, it's still an enjoyable film. Hobson is especially strong and less understanding of Glendon's lying and sneaking about than she is of Clive's in Bride of Frankenstein. When Lisa's old boyfriend (who also, conveniently happens to be the nephew of a big shot at Scotland Yard) shows up, she renews her friendship with him over Glendon's objections. There's never any hint that she's fooling around with the other guy, but she's not going to let her husband tell her what to do when he's obviously hiding something. Good for her.
The sets and tone of Werewolf of London are also very good, especially the large estate that's the setting for the film's climax. And the werewolf makeup is excellent. Jack Pierce designed it and though it's not as complex as what Pierce came up with six years later for The Wolf Man, it's still very effective and Hull does nice things with it.