Werewolf of London is a 1935 horror film starring Henry Hull, produced by Universal Pictures.
Aristocratic botanist, Dr Glendon (Hull), ventures into the foothills of Tibet to search for the elusive Mariphasa Lumina Lupina (a plant, not a person). Alas, Glendon is set upon by a wolf-life creature; returning to London, essentially with his tail between his legs, Glendon is repeatedly visited by the mysterious Dr Yogami (Warner Oland aka Charlie Chan, evidently the only person in Hollywood available to play Oriental characters in the 1930s) who warns him that it was none other than himself who had attacked him and that now he too must burden the curse of being a manbeast. Yogami reveals the exotic plant Glendon found holds the cure to their woes within its flowers; what follows is a game of cat and mouse as Glendon and Yogami battle for ownership of the plant whilst Glendon finds himself turning hairy and vicious when the moon hangs full…
Coming slap-bang in the middle of Universal’s Golden Era of horror films, Werewolf of London is something of an oddity. Featuring few recognisable faces from their roster, though Valerie Hobson (later married to scandal-wrapped MP, John Profumo) appears as Glendon’s wife, the same year she appeared as Baron Frankenstein’s other half in Bride of Frankenstein. Director, Stuart Walker, had a short and unremarkable career and the rather nauseatingly flat score from Karl Hajos were both out of kilter with the advancements the studio was making in the genre.
Henry Hull is a baffling choice for the lead. With nothing before the film suggesting he was destined for greatness, Hull didn’t disappoint by showing with the rest of his career that this was indeed the case. He possessed possibly the poshest English voice in film history, which is at first intriguing but quite quickly annoying and succeeds in never really lending any emotional depth to his character, out of time and out of place as a tragic character.
Make-up duties, inevitably, fell to Jack P. Pierce, his original designs being those which were eventually to be used by/on Lon Chaney Jr in 1941 The Wolfman. Hull rejected the make-up due to it being too time-consuming to apply – oddly he was successful in his claims; given that Karloff, Chaney and many other actors with far more clout had been made to suffer Pierce’s creations, it seems a little unfair that this should be the case, though it does allow Hull to add more in terms of adding his own facial expressions to the performance. The only surviving still of this intended, now familiar, look is pictured below:
Instead, Pierce, reduced the facial appliances and the end result is undeniably impressive, possessing an ‘evil’ that his later work in The Wolfman is lacking. The transformation sequences are very much of the time, gradual descent into wolfdom being aided by conveniently placed objects obscuring each stage; still endearingly pleasing. The unearthly sound of the werewolf was a combination of Hull’s voice and that of a timber wolf.
It has taken many decades for the film to receive anything like favourable reviews – at the time, the film was considered far too similar to 1931’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The film is however rather charming and adds to werewolf law by rather side-tracking the supernatural aspect and concentrating on the scientific angle. The exoticism of Tibet was tapped right up to 1975’s Paul Naschy-starring Werewolf and the Yeti and the film also suggests the importance of the moon in controlling the creature, advising that unless it kills on a full moon it will be doomed to be the beast forever (conveniently forgotten by the third night!)
The film is not without its creepy moments, particularly when ‘Wolf Glendon’ dons his hat and cape for a night of killing – it should look ridiculous and perhaps it does but it’s also unique and intriguing. Sadly, it’s difficult to really care what happens to the toff, messing around looking for plants whilst decked in his finery, scarcely the stuff of heroes. Yogami is also an annoyance, his appearances to warn of the inevitable coming across as rude intrusions, wandering into his house uninvited, tut! The groundwork the film played in allowing the far superior The Wolfman (and Warren Zevon’s biggest hit) was invaluable and we should be grateful for this at least; a film of memorable moments but without the pathos and splendour of much of Universal’s more celebrated output.
Daz Lawrence, Horrorpedia