She-Wolf of London (1946)

She-Wolf of London is an anomaly in Universal’s Wolf Man series. First, there’s the hyphen connecting the “She” and “Wolf.” One would think viewers would be able to figure out the differences between a “Wolf Man” and a “She Wolf” without the help. Next, it came out in 1946, three years after Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man; being the third in Universal’s lycanthropic films. Which is unusual since Universal had before used the female monster variant as the second film in a series (see Dracula’s Daughter and Bride of Frankenstein).

But what a three years they must have been! Gone are the horrible special effects to give the illusion of riding. Here, director Jean Yarbrough actually has his actors climb on top of horses and ride. What a crazy idea! Also, Yarbrough’s use of camera angles and movement is a lot more compelling than the earlier Chaney films. Once doesn’t want to fall asleep during the (obligatory) exposition sequences.

And what expositions! There’s a curse to learn about (the Allenby curse), lycanthropy to inform the audience about (who, going to a film called She-Wolf of London doesn’t already know what a werewolf is, and the hidden romance between Carol (Jan Wiley), “cousin” to heiress Phyllis Allenby (June Lockhart) and Severn (Martin Kosleck) (Carol’s secretly unrelated “aunt” Martha (Sara Haden) opposes the marriage as beau Severn is little more than a commoner, and head maid Hannah (Eily Malyon) wants her to marry up). There, it took me three lines to bring you up to speed; if only Universal’s script department could’ve worked with the same efficiency.

None of these talkie-ness actually shows up on screen though. 15 minutes into the film, and all the tension provided is whether Martha will bring Phyllis her warmed milk fast enough to make her sleepy. There’s background talk of a wolf attack, and Phyllis believes she carries the Allenby curse, but we’ve seen nothing to support this. Contrasting with how most films will show the attacks, and then expect us to buy into the characters’ disbelief.

A young boy has been murdered in the park, and Phyllis is the only one who believes she’s cursed. So it’s up to her to restrain herself at night, while aunt Martha plays the naysayer. Eventually we learn that Phyllis has been reading up on diabolical subjects, as well as engaging in pagan rites.

30 minutes in, and a police inspector has had his throat torn out while a shrouded woman is seen sneaking out of the Allenby estate.

Thus creating a taut little thriller. Is the She-Wolf Phyllis, with her knowledge, interest, and experience in the black arts? Or Carol, who sneaks out by night to “visit” Severin? As both explanations are shown to be plausible, She-Wolf of London plays out as Diabolique would years later; a mystery that’s actually worthy of the title.

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