Werewolf of London (1935)

Warren Zezon was wrong! Lon Chaney Jr wasn’t a “[Werewolf] of London” (the Wolf Man’s place of origin is unspecified England), but Henry Hull! Proving that the original is always the best, Werewolf of London knocks the socks off of Chaney’s attempts at lycanthropy. Which, admittedly, isn’t hard to do, considering the She-Wolf of London, a film which doesn’t even have a werewolf in it is more interesting than anything Chaney did.

First, the films earns points for originality. This is the only werewolf film that I can think of that shows us where the lycanthropy comes from. No curses. Allenby, Gypsy, or otherwise. Instead we meet botanist Wilfred Glendon (Henry Hull) on assignment in Tibet; searching for a flower that draws its energy from moonlight. He finds it, isolated in a valley, and guarded by a werewolf who looks suspiciously like Eddie Munster. (Jack Pierce, the man who did the makeup here, would clearly refine his technique before working on Chaney’s films.) They tussle, Wilfred gets bitten, stabs the werewolf, and returns to polite London academia.

A film that’s refreshingly more scientific than the Wolf Man films too. Dr. Glendon not only creates a machine that makes artificial moonlight (causing Wilfred’s hand to become hairy), but he finds the antidote to lycanthropy too! (Naturally the flower Glendon brought back with him.) All Larry Talbot ever managed to do was be the sappiest Prodigal Son ever immortalized on film!

Glendon doesn’t bemoan his curse, he actively tries to cure it. Making him at once a more sympathetic character; as he’s not beg for sympathy. And, in a satisfying, and certainly more monsterific twist, the lycanthropic curse requires the werewolf to take a human life every full moon, or become permanently afflicted. Thus explaining why werewolves are always hunting man instead of easier game, such as deer.

What’s really nice here, and might be a nod to the fact that, as a botanist, Wilfred actually has a education, is how Wilfred reacts to his plight. After the healing flower buds are stolen, Dr. Glendon takes action. First by ordering his wife to stay inside (an order his sassy (especially for ’35) wife Lisa (Valerie Hobson) is up-front about telling him will be disobeyed), and then renting a room a couple towns over. Glendon knows the curse preempts him toward lashing out at loved ones, so he positions himself far away from them.

(It’ll also make connecting him to the murders he has to commit more difficult; a nice added bonus.)

When the rented room doesn’t work (he jumps out, and through, the 4th floor window), Wilfred upgrades to what appears to be a dusty tower cell. One with barred windows. You have to feel for him, at this point, as he clearly doesn’t want to hurt anyone.

The film’s only scratch your head moment coming at the end, when you have to wonder why a werewolf, who just injected himself with a temporary cure, would then proceed to pick a fight with a transformed werewolf.

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One Response to “Werewolf of London (1935)”

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