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Werewolf of London (1935)
Tonight's Feature Presentation


Starring: Henry Hull, Warner Oland, Valerie Hobson, Lester Matthews, Lawrence Grant, Spring Byington

Written By: John Colton, Robert Harris (story) Directed By: Stuart Walker

The Short Version

It’s easy to see why this is the Universal werewolf flick that everyone forgets.

Every character in this movie is unlikable for one reason or another.

Henry Hull’s performance as the title character is simply dreadful.

The pacing also leaves a lot to be desired; 70-odd minutes feels like at least double that.

Werewolf of London is just too lousy to recommend to anyone but major Universal horror enthusiasts.

The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


Maybe they had flavor once, and maybe they were an okay snack.  Now, though, there’s not much to like about them.

Pairs Well With...


Put it on Warren Zevon’s tab.  Ah-woooo!

“You are foolish.  But without fools, there would be no wisdom.”

When asked for the first title that comes to mind after hearing the terms “Universal Horror” and “werewolf,” nearly everyone will automatically respond by bringing up 1941’s The Wolf Man.  Save for a very few classic horror enthusiasts, most people completely forget that six years earlier, Universal had made its first attempt at starting up a talkie era werewolf franchise with Werewolf of London.  Indeed, if given the actual phrase “Werewolf of London,” most people nowadays will automatically think of Warren Zevon.  (Yes, I know; the song title is actually plural. Doesn't change the association people make.)

There’s a reason for this, folks.

While many apologists look at this film and lament its being shoved into a dusty corner after Mr. Chaney showed up, I have no intention of joining their ranks.  Why?  Because quite frankly, Werewolf of London is a lousy movie.

The premise it kicks off with is interesting enough.  An English botanist by the name of Dr. Glendon (Henry Hull, High Sierra) has traveled to Tibet in order to obtain a specimen of a rare flower that blooms only under the light of a full moon.  While he’s in the process of doing so, however, he’s attacked by a wild, hairy beast.  He manages to drive the creature off, but not before getting a nasty bite on the arm…

Weeks later, Glendon is back in London, trying to make the flower bloom in his basement laboratory under ‘artificial moonlight’ while his neglected wife, Lisa (Valerie Hobson, The Bride of Frankenstein), tries to get him to come up for some air to attend the cocktail party he’s supposedly hosting.  Finally relenting, he comes upstairs only to be approached by a certain Dr. Yogami (Warner Oland, Charlie Chan in London), who claims to have briefly met Glendon in Tibet and who very much wants to see the flower he brought back.  Glendon rebuffs the fellow, stating that no one will be allowed to see the plant until his experiments with it are concluded.  Yogami persists, however, and eventually gets to see the flower: a flower with the unique property, he claims, of serving as a temporary antidote to the curse of “werewolfism”…

I sat down to watch Werewolf of London expecting to see a forgotten gem.  Instead, I saw 70-odd minutes’ worth of reasons why so many people have forgotten it.  I can honestly say that including the fact that it ended, I could only find four things to like about the film.

First, I like the premise.  Starting things off in Tibet is interesting, as is the story of the plant.

Second, I like the frog-eating plant that gets fed during the garden party.  (Sadly, though, it did not say “Feed me, Seymour.”  Or anything else, for that matter.)

Third, I like the performance of Warner Oland, even if his character doesn’t deserve him.

And fourth, the movie ends.

Everything else… forget it. 

All of the characters are unlikable for any number of reasons.  Our hero, Glendon, stands at the very top of this list; to put things succinctly using modern parlance, he’s nothing short of a complete dick.  He neglects his wife (par for the course for these horror movie mad scientist types, I know), he’s rude to everyone he comes into contact with, and he displays such little regard for others that when the script finally asks him to act like he has feelings, it’s just impossible to buy.  Meanwhile, said neglected wife is happy to string along a former beau who pretty much begs to make an adulteress out of her; if not for the Production Code of the 1930s, it surely would have happened, and with the way this is written, I don’t think that she’d have needed to feel neglected to come up with an excuse, either.  Dr. Yogami quickly degenerates into being the stereotypical “lying Oriental” of the era’s shameful “Yellow Peril” vintage.  The society types are all so vacuous that it’s hard to resist the urge to reach through the screen and slap them.  On the opposite side of the coin, the stereotypical 1930s horror “shrieking Cockney ladies” are also present, and even the fact that this script makes them alcoholics who like to smack each other upside the head can’t make them entertaining.  And so on down the line.  I can’t think of a single character other than the housepets who didn’t deserve to become wolf bait by the end of the movie.

And then there’s the matter of Henry Hull, who takes an already badly written character and makes him even worse with a range-free performance that comes across as though it is motivated purely by irritation.  Even this film’s apologists usually don’t have much of anything nice to say about what Hull brings to the table here, largely because the aforementioned frog-eating plant has more charisma and is able to generate greater sympathy.  (Bonus: way to go, Mr. Hull, for rejecting the original makeup design and going for something cheesier looking but simpler to deal with.  That first makeup design, of course, would end up being used six years later, and come to be recognized as some of the best horror makeup of all time.)  No wonder people prefer to remember the affable Lon Chaney, Jr. as the real Wolf Man.

Turning back to the screenplay, I’d ask exactly why our allegedly learned botanist, upon realizing that his special plant absolutely does not want to bloom properly under his “artificial moonlight,” consistently refuses to (gasp) put it under real moonlight, but given the script’s success with character development, I know better than to ask it to make sense with anything else.

For example, when the fully transformed werewolf reaches for a scarf, coat, and hat before going outside to savage some prey… Yeah.  Just take a big swig of your drink and don’t ask.

And yet… most if not all of the above sins might have been if not forgivable then at least tolerable if only Werewolf of London had someone with style and imagination at the helm.  After all, consider how many scores of slashers and so on have managed to achieve at least watchable mediocrity despite having lousy characters, inane plots, and annoying cast members.  Unfortunately, Stuart Walker doesn’t seem to have much imagination here, and so when the script decides to pad runtime by throwing several dull society parties, he makes sure that the audience gets every angle of them while the vaguely embarrassing werewolf thing gets dealt with in point and shoot fashion.  He doesn’t care if the actors bluster out their lines so long as they get the words right.  And worst of all, he appears to believe that “pacing” is something that happens at race tracks and not in movies, the end result of which is a 70-odd minute movie that feels like its passage could be measured with a calendar.

When it’s all said and done… I think I found Universal’s Mummy sequels more entertaining than Werewolf of London, and believe me, folks, that is sad.

Bottom line, if you’re expecting to discover forgotten treasure by pressing “play” for Werewolf of London, prepare to be disappointed.  If you absolutely must see every werewolf flick out there, then by all means, go for it, but discovering this thoroughly dull and largely unlikable film is more akin to discovering packaged food in your cupboard that’s gone a year or two past the expiration date.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, October, 2012

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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