Werewolf of London / She-Wolf of London

Werewolf of London / She-Wolf of London (1950)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Henry Hull, Valerie Hobson, Sara Haden, June Lockhart, Don Porter
Extras: Theatrical Trailers, Production Notes, Biographies & Filmographies

Motivated by the enormous successes of "Frankenstein" and "Dracula, " producer and Universal Pictures’ president Carl Laemmle yearned to create yet another box-office boogeyman to stand alongside Karloff and Lugosi. In 1935, Laemmle brought forth a story of ‘werewolfery’ in "The Werewolf of London." Sadly, the effort failed to establish the werewolf as the next big horror creature. It was 1941’s "The Wolf Man" that revisited and revamped the werewolf tale, successfully establishing Lon Chaney, Jr. as the definitive lycathrope thanks to Jack P. Pierce’s inventive makeup and Curt Siodmak’s convincing legend of the man who transforms into a wolf under the light of the full moon. And like it’s monstrous brethren, "The Wolf Man" scared up impressive ticket sales and became Universal’s next sequel-spawning incarnation. Thankfully, Universal Home Video now delivers the original werewolf film, not to mention a spin-off yarn, in yet another welcome double-feature DVD.

It’s unfortunate and even a bit puzzling that "Werewolf of London" wasn’t successful in its aspirations, typically causing it to be overlooked by the more casual genre fan. It’s the well-crafted story of high-brow botanist Wilfred Glendon (Henry Hull) who is attacked and bitten by a werewolf while searching in Tibet for the exotic and fabled Marifasa Lupino Lumino, a flower that blooms only in the moonlight. Back in London with the flower, Glendon himself becomes a werewolf, tortured by the transformations and the ensuing murders he commits. Desperate for answers, he finds himself confronted by the odd and all-too-knowledgeable Dr. Yogami (Warner Oland) who warns Glendon that the werewolf "instinctively seeks to kill the thing it loves best." But who is Yogami and why is he equally fascinated with the Marifasa bloom, purported to be the only known antidote for such beastly transformations?

"Werewolf of London" is a very cleverly scripted and well-photographed film. Combining a biting dose of upper-class wit and sarcasm with some very evocative camera setups and movement, the film sustains an enjoyable and compelling pace. Though some have criticized the general un-hairiness of Hull’s werewolf, I find it to be appropriately suited to his balanced portrayal of Glendon’s inner conflict between the savage urges of a predatory beast juxtaposed by his own human reasoning and compassion. And, without question, he’s still rather frightening to behold. For relief, viewers will enjoy the inebriated antics of the two cockneyed biddies, Mrs. Whack and Mrs. Moncaster, reminiscent of Una O’Connor’s shrill role in "Bride of Frankenstein."

Next up is 1946’s "She-Wolf of London," a film released near the end of Universal’s classic horror run (prior to the arrival of the Creature, that is). Set in turn-of-the-century London, young heiress Phyllis Allenby (June Lockhart) fears she has succumbed to the ‘Allenby Curse’ after a series of grisly murders suggests the presence of a stalking she-wolf. Tormented by bizarre dreams and the inability to explain her nighttime whereabouts, Phyllis fears she has become a werewolf herself, doomed to the same fate that led to her parents’ deaths. After she breaks off her engagement to eligible Barry Lanfield (Don Porter), she cowers in her bedroom, teetering on the brink of insanity while her mysterious Aunt Martha (Sara Haden) seems to be her only ally – or is she?

"She-Wolf of London" plays more like a whodunit than a classic horror feature. Though it’s not particularly spellbinding and its resolution rather easy to deduce, it’s still a nice little film that’s generally well acted and features wonderfully moody sets. Though I’m not sure if intentional, it’s interesting to see one of the female characters draped in a hood and cape much like Red Riding Hood (certainly the most enduring werewolf story of all time). June Lockhart’s performance is simply endearing here and definitely worth viewing.

Both films are presented in <$PS,full frame> format and black and white. Having seen them numerous times over the years, I applaud Universal for serving up such nice looking transfers. Though they exhibit visible source damage of flecks and spots (with "She-Wolf" showing higher occurrences), they’re still very rich in detail and picture clarity, thanks to deep blacks and nicely graduated gray scales. Overall, the image is crisp and sharp though "She-Wolf" again suffers from occasional soft edges.

The audio is simple English <$DD,Dolby Digital> 2.0 mono that fittingly recreates that agreeable late-night din of melodramatic dialog punctuated with ominous musical cues. Thankfully, the low-level hiss and infrequent pops are hardly distracting and the audio levels remain constant save for a temporary drop-off in "Werewolf of London" at the 56:12 mark.

The disc’s extras are consistent with the other recent Universal horror double-bills: theatrical trailers, cast and crew biographies and filmographies, and some genuinely interesting production notes. And, take note that, in order to return to the film selection screen, it’s necessary to utilize your DVD remote’s ‘Title’ button.

Again, it’s nice to see Universal’s other werewolf films given the high-quality DVD treatment. Though these films aren’t the epitome of classic Universal horror, they’re definitely worthy of induction into any classic horror library.