While on a botanical expedition in Tibet Dr. Wilfred Glendon is attacked in the dark by a strange animal. Returning to London, he finds himself turning nightly into a werewolf and terrorizing the city, with the only hope for curing his affliction a rare Asian flower. Written by
Jeremy Lunt <email@example.com>
"The Werewolf of London" (Universal, 1935), directed by Stuart Walker, adds to another roaster of Universal's collection of movie monsters of the 1930s, this time a werewolf. Six years before Lon Chaney Jr. made a lasting impression as "The Wolf Man" (1941), followed by sequels, this early rendition about a man cursed with werewolfism comes off pretty well, in spite of the absence of the usual horror names of Boris Karloff or Bela Lugosi in the leads. In fact, without the usual actors of previous horror movies of that era, this one stands on its own merits.
Henry Hull (1890-1977), a character actor with decades of movie roles to his credit, seems to be quite unlikely to be chosen to perform not only in a lead performance (there were so few to his long film credit), but in the title role. Unlike Karloff or Lugosi, Hull never remained associated or type-cast with horror roles during the duration of his career, and like Claude Rains, the star of "The Invisible Man" (1933), Hull was able to perform in diversified roles, in spite that he never got any recognition worthy of receiving an Academy Award nomination. But if Hull is to be remembered at all, it should be for his performance as what is reportedly said to be as Hollywood's first werewolf.
The story opens in Tibet with middle-aged Wilfred Glendon (Henry Hull), a Botanist, who discovers an extraordinary flower, but after he retrieves it, he is suddenly attacked by some strange creature, but Glendon manages to get it away, coming off with some scratches on his arm. Back in his London laboratory, Glendon works on his experiments and close study of the plant, much to the dismay of his lovely but younger wife, Lisa (Valerie Hobson). She feels somewhat neglected but later finds something to occupy her time after she reacquaints herself with one of the visiting guests, Paul Ames (Lester Matthews), an older gentleman who was once her former sweetheart of years past. While conducting his study, Glendon agrees to let Lisa spend some of her free time with Ames, which eventually causes Glendon to become a little jealous. Also seen attending Glendon's open house exhibits is a mysterious man named Doctor Yogami (Warner Oland) who takes a special interest in Glendon's rare flower find. Yogami tells Glendon the background of this flower which is known for combating werewolves. Of course Glendon thinks Yogami is crazy and refuses to believe such a tale, but then begins to have second thoughts when, during a full moon evening, Glendon, sitting in his reading room, starts to notice hairs growing on his arms, body and face (which causes his pet cat to hump its back and start hissing), finding Glendon unable to control his inner emotions as he prowls the streets of London to commit some ghastly murders. But before the story comes to a somewhat rushed climax, Glendon learns the true dark secret about Doctor Yogami.
Aside from some tense moments, the movie features "comedy relief" headed by Spring Byington as Aunt Ettie, who, in one scene, becomes nauseous after witnessing a live frog being fed to a man-eating-flower; Ethel Griffies and Zeffie Tilbury as two old drunken and very nosy English floosies who have their usual "friendly" disagreements while managing both bar and upstairs apartments; Lawrence Grant and Charlotte Granville as Mr. and Mrs. Forsythe; among others. This review shouldn't go without commenting on its fine transformation scene(s) of Hull as he changes into a werewolf little by little while walking behind some pillars, with the buildup of the underscoring to the final outlook of Hull's appearance as the werewolf, compliments of make-up expert, Jack Pierce.
"The Werewolf of London" can be found as a video movie rental, and was formerly shown on both the Sci-Fi Channel and American Movie Classics prior to 2001. No classic horror movie fan should go without seeing this almost forgotten horror gem, especially on Halloween or on a cold rainy Saturday night. Unlike other horror films from that period, this one produced no sequels. Maybe I could be thankful for that. (**1/2)
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