Lon Chaney Jr.’s Lawrence Talbot wasn’t Universal’s first Wolf Man . That honor goes to Henry Hull in WEREWOLF OF LONDON, a chilling but lesser film in the Universal canon. This one reminds me more of DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE than any of Chaney’s lycanthropic outings, and Jack Pierce’s makeup job is a little light in the hirsute department (more on that later).
British botanist Wilfred Glendon travels to Tibet to search for the rare mariphasia lumina lupina, a flower that only blooms in moonlight. Trekking into a forbideden valley, he is attacked and bitten by a werewolf. Returning to London with his find, Glendon is confronted by the mysterious Dr. Yogami, who says they’ve met before. Unbeknownst to Glendon, Yogami is the werewolf in question, who wants the phosphorescent moonflower as an antidote for his own lycanthropy. Yogami manages to steal the two blooms, leaving Glendon to transform into a howling, snarling beast.
Glendon’s affliction is alienating him from wife Lisa, who turns to ex-beau Paul Ames for comfort. Glendon is fearful as Yogami has warned him “the werewolf instinctively seeks to kill the thing it loves best”. The murderous beast within him murders two women before another flower blooms, which Yogami also steals, paying for it with his life. Then Glendon goes after Lisa before finally being gunned down and put out of his anguished existence by Scotland Yard.
Henry Hull (1890-1977), whose film career stretched back to 1917, reminds me a bit of Colin Clive in his portrayal of the tortured soul Glendon. Hull had a long career as a character actor; some of his best known films are BOYS TOWN, JESSE JAMES, HIGH SIERRA, LIFEBOAT, and THE GREAT GATSBY. Hull advocated against Pierce’s fully furred werewolf makeup (rumored to be similar to his later Wolf Man job), arguing the script calls for Glendon to be recognized by his wife. He won the argument, and the result was okay… though Pierce’s later job for Chaney remains the most iconic. (By the way, Hull’s nephew Courtland Hull is the long-time proprietor of the Witch’s Dungeon Classic Movie Museum in Bristol, CT, a Halloween destination for horror movie buffs since 1966.)
Valerie Hobson (Lisa) and Lester Matthews (Paul) were kept busy by Universal in 1935, she in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN , he in THE RAVEN . Warner Oland took a break from his Charlie Chan movies at 20th Century-Fox to play the part of Dr. Yogami, the unfortunate Tibetan who bit Glendon. Comic relief is provided by Spring Byington as ditzy Aunt Ettie, and Ethel Griffies and Zeffie Tilbury as a pair of drunk old flophouse proprietors. I could’ve done without all three. Director Stuart Walker had done two Charles Dickens adaptations for Universal, 1934’s GREAT EXPECTATIONS (with Hull as Magwich) and THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD (starring Claude Rains ). His direction here is pretty lifeless, lifted only by the acting of Hull and Oland.
Since that’s about all I’ve got to say on WEREWOLF OF LONDON, I’ll turn things over to the late Warren Zevon to serenade us with his 1978 hit “Werewolves of London”. Take it away, Warren!: