Saturday, October 05, 2013

She-Wolf of London (1946)

Who's in it?: June Lockhart (Lost in Space, Lassie), Don Porter (Night Monster, Gidget), Sara Haden (The Shop Around the Corner, The Bishop's Wife), Jan Wiley (Citizen Kane, The Brute Man), and Eily Malyon (Going My Way, Basil Rathbone's The Hound of the Baskervilles).

What's it about?: A young woman (Lockhart) begins to think she may be the werewolf that's been terrorizing the local park.

How is it?: I'm going to have to spoil the movie to talk about it, but that's for the best. Though marketed as a werewolf movie (the title is a deliberate reference to Werewolf of London, the theatrical trailer plays up the werewolf angle, and my copy came in a DVD set with Universal's other werewolf films), She-Wolf isn't. It's a mystery/psychological thriller in the tradition of Gaslight, a hugely popular play in the late '30s that spawned two film adaptations (one in 1940 and the other in 1944) and lots of mid-'40s imitators like Dangerous Passage and this film. The play's plot, in which a young woman is made to think she's going insane by someone close to her, even gave its name to a clinical term in psychology so that "gaslighting" is "a form of mental abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory, perception and sanity."

In this sub-genre of psychological thrillers, She-Wolf at least has the advantage of the villain's using a local werewolf legend as a major tool, but sadly there is no actual werewolf, which makes the movie a bait-and-switch. And the mystery of who's persecuting poor June Lockhart isn't that great either, since the key to unlocking it is clumsily revealed early on in the story.

There are some great sets and Lost in Space fans may find it fun to watch young Maureen Robinson, but there's not much else to recommend it.

Grade: D+


Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

I've heard a rumor that the Lon Chaney Jr Wolf Man movie was supposed to have a "is it real or am I crazy?" plot like you describe here, but that they went for the monster after Frankenstein was a smash hit.

Then again I think this kind of "what am I/what have I become" theme is very common in werewolf stories.

"Gaslight" has been on my to-see list for a long time now, though given its plot is a pretty big staple of physiological thrillers, I wonder how much of an impact it might have.

Wings1295 said...

Never even heard of this one!

Michael May said...

Erik, I don't remember if I've seen the 1940 Gaslight, but the '44 version is worth watching, especially if you like Ingrid Bergman. It's my second favorite role of hers after Casablanca. Joseph Cotton and Charles Boyer are also great in it, if you like those two (I do).

But one of the coolest things about Gaslight '44 is very young Angela Lansbury as a Cockney maid. She steals every scene she's in.


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