Usually the first movie in a field remains the best-known example of the genre. However, that wasn’t the case with werewolf movies. While the semi-modern release of 1981’s An American Werewolf In London maintains its adherents, 1941’s The Wolf Man stands as the most famous flick of this sort. Although its advanced age may lead some to believe it came first, this wasn’t the case. In fact, another adventure predated it by six years: 1935’s Werewolf of London.
That was the flick that really started the genre. For the record, I recognize that at least one silent film beat both Werewolf and Wolf Man to the punch, but in regard to this discussion, I think only “talkies” matter, so when I refer to Werewolf as being the first of its kind, it’s within those parameters.
Despite its lower profile, I found Werewolf to be a much better film than Wolf Man. In the older movie, we meet Wilfred Glendon (Henry Hull), a British botanist who treks to Tibet to locate a rare plant. He locates it but he also lands on the receiving end of an attack from some beast. Wilfred isn’t terribly injured, though, and he heads home with his prize.
Back in London, we watch Wilfred as he attempts to get the plant to bloom; it only does so in moonlight, but he tries to make it occur with artificial illumination. His fascination with his work leads him to ignore his wife Lisa (Valerie Hobson, who also starred in Bride of Frankenstein the same year), which leads her almost into the arms of visiting childhood love Paul Ames (Lester Matthews). While he remains aloof, Wilfred clearly feels jealous when he sees the rekindled spark between the two.
Unfortunately, he has other concerns, as it appears his attack in Tibet has left him with some repercussions: he’s a freakin’ werewolf! (Not that this should come as a surprise, given the title of the film.) After Wilfred’s first outbreak of this disease, he spends most of the rest of the movie trying to deal with it, attempts that mainly deal with his stabs at cultivating the rare plant. He also receives a visit by a mysterious gent named Dr. Yogami (Warner Oland), someone who claims to know him from earlier times.
While Werewolf of London doesn’t qualify as a horror classic, it seems more successful than most, largely due to the terrific performance from Hull in the lead. He creates a nice sense of depth as Wilfred that contrasts starkly with the dull lump played by Lon Chaney Jr. in The Wolf Man. Werewolf offers a certain complexity that the later flick lacks, as it relates to Wilfred’s obsessions and his jealousy. He’s a rough, gritty guy who provides a spooky nastiness totally absent from Chaney’s Larry Talbot, who was a total non-entity.
It also manages to combine humor and horror in a way that reminds me of Bride of Frankenstein. Though Werewolf isn’t quite in that classic’s league, it nonetheless has some genuinely amusing and entertaining moments that blend well with the action. They feel well integrated and never seem gratuitous or silly.
Werewolf of London offered a very pleasant surprise. I didn’t expect much from it, but thought it presented a fairly exciting, scary and winning experience. It definitely stands among the best werewolf films.
Werewolf of London appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Of the 12 movies released in this third wave of Universal’s “Classic Monsters”, Werewolf was the oldest film. However, you wouldn’t know that from the picture on this DVD, which provided a fairly solid visual experience.
Sharpness looked consistently positive, as the movie provided a fairly detailed and succinct picture. Any softness seemed to be minor, and I found the result to appear distinct and crisp. Moiré effects and jagged edges presented no concerns as well. Black levels came across as nicely deep and rich for the most part, and shadow detail also appeared appropriately heavy but not excessively opaque. A few shots looked a little dim, but as a whole the image was clean and visible.
As one might expect, print flaws created the biggest concerns with Werewolf, though they seemed to be fairly minor for the era. I saw examples of grain, nicks, grit, speckles, small blotches and occasional running vertical lines. Again, these could become a distraction, but they stayed modest for such an old movie. All in all, I thought this was a satisfying image.
Unfortunately, the monaural soundtrack of Werewolf was less positive. The quality of the elements generally appeared to be average for the era. Dialogue was thin and tinny but reasonably clear, with no problems related to intelligibility. Effects and music also seemed a bit strident and they lacked dynamics, but they stayed within the acceptable range for the age of the material.
Background defects caused the most substantial issues. I heard light crackling through most of the movie. This rarely became loud, but it was a consistent presence, and it became distracting. Some popping accompanied this as well, and the noise seemed problematic some of the time. Given the age of Werewolf, these concerns weren’t much of a surprise, but they were a disappointment after the strong picture.
The supplements found of Werewolf of London match up closely with those found on the other Universal Monster double feature DVDs. We get the film’s trailer plus some good text “Production Notes”. In addition, we find “Cast and Filmmakers” biographies of director Stuart Walker plus actors Henry Hull, Warner Oland, Valerie Hobson, Lester Matthews, Spring Byington, Clark Williams, and Lawrence Grant. Those offer short but decent looks at their careers.
Picture/Sound/Extras: She-Wolf of London B/C/D-
Eleven years after Werewolf of London hit screens, filmmakers received 1946’s She-Wolf of London. Despite the similarities of the titles, the two movies had virtually nothing to do with each other, a fact that became even more obvious when I watched She-Wolf.
Set at the turn of the 20th century, She-Wolf focuses on lovely young Phyllis Allenby (June Lockhart). She’s set to marry successful lawyer Barry Lanfield (Don Porter) but she starts to worry that she suffers from “the curse of the Allenbys”. Apparently fuzziness runs in the family, and when a boy gets killed near her home, she fears the worst.
We also meet her “aunt” Martha Winthrop (Sara Haden); she’s actually a former housekeeper for the Allenbys who acts as Phyllis’ guardian. They live in the Allenby estate along with Martha’s daughter Carol (Jan Wiley) and their housekeeper Hannah (Eily Malyon).
Essentially She-Wolf deals with the “is she or isn’t she” issue. Unlike Werewolf of London and Wolf Man, we never see Phyllis transform into a beast. As such, the film becomes more of a mystery than a horror flick. We don’t know if Phyllis caused the crimes, and even if she did, we aren’t aware if she really is a werewolf or if she’s just nuts.
Those aspects and a few others made She-Wolf moderately entertaining. In a way, the lack of werewolf shots felt like a cop-out. She-Wolf was a cheap film that was filmed in a very short period of time; according to the DVD’s production notes, they took less than two weeks to make it. The absence of effects and makeup shots meant that they could move more quickly and inexpensively.
Still, I liked that aspect of the flick if just because it was something different. Granted, She-Wolf had a very predictable plot; it didn’t take long to see where it would ultimately go. Nonetheless, by 1946 most horror films had become rather bland and redundant, so I was pleased to see an effort to be a little unusual.
I also thought it was fun to witness a female lead. Those were - and are - few and far between. Of the 21 movies currently available on DVD through the “Classic Monsters” line, only three - She-Wolf, Bride of Frankenstein, and 1936’s Dracula’s Daughter - feature women in horrific roles, and the Bride doesn’t even really qualify as a star in her own film since she only appears in small parts of it.
This made the female-centered world of She-Wolf more appealing, though I admit it was disappointing that Lockhart didn’t get to play a full-out beast. It would have been interesting to see a different perspective on this kind of monster, especially from such a gentle and quiet personality. Actually, Lockhart was one of the best aspects of She-Wolf, as she provided a strong performance as Phyllis. She made the character believable as she questioned her sanity and her fate; she maintained a nicely melancholy tone that suited the role.
Overall, She-Wolf of London was an unspectacular affair, but I found it to be moderately enjoyable. It lacked the overt scares of many other horror flicks, and it seemed rather predictable as a whole, but it still provided something different that I liked.
She-Wolf of London appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. As the most recent of the 12 movies in the double features, one might expect a strong picture from She-Wolf, and one would expect correctly. Though not without flaws, I found the image to present a consistently positive experience.
Sharpness again looked crisp and detailed. Very little softness appeared along the way, as the movie usually appeared well defined and accurate. Some slight moiré effects occurred on occasion, but these were minor, and I saw no other problems related to jagged edges. Black levels seemed to be nicely deep and rich, and shadow detail was clear without excessive thickness.
Once again, print flaws created the biggest problems, but even these appeared to be pretty minor. I noticed light speckling and grain plus a few marks, nicks, and blotches, but these never became overwhelming. Ultimately, I felt that She-Wolf was a very nice image for its age.
The film’s monaural soundtrack was more average, but it still seemed fine for the era. The mix betrayed a moderately trebly tone that favored the higher register, and this impacted most strongly on dialogue. Speech came across as intelligible and clear but showed distinct edginess at times. Effects seemed to be cleaner, and music actually showed some reasonable dynamics at times. Background noise demonstrated a little hum and crackling at times, but it seemed to be generally clean. Without the brittleness of the speech, this mix would have earned a higher grade, but a “C” still seems fine for an older film.
The supplements of She-Wolf strongly echo those found with Werewolf and all the other double features. We find the movie’s trailer and additional solid text “Production Notes”. Yup, more “Cast and Filmmakers” biographies appear as well; we get entries for director Jean Yarborough plus actors June Lockhart, Don Porter, Sara Hayden, Jan Wiley, Lloyd Corrigan, Dennis Hoey, Martin Kosleck, Eily Malyon, and Frederic Worlock. These remain short but interesting.
Despite the distinctly different eras in which they were made, both 1935’s Werewolf of London and 1946’s She-Wolf of London go fairly well together, and they both offer reasonably entertaining experiences. I prefer Werewolf, but I liked She-Wolf as well, mainly because it was something a little unusual.
As for the DVD, it includes the usual moderate roster of extras, but it presents the films more positively than with most of the other Universal Monster double features. Both Werewolf and She-Wolf offer surprisingly solid pictures. While their audio tracks were less satisfying, they still seemed to be acceptable for their age. Ultimately, this is one of the better of the six double feature releases, and fans should really enjoy it.