Thursday, October 29, 2015

THE UNIVERSAL BLOGATHON: Werewolf of London (1935)


The hostesses with the mostesses that we know as the Metzinger Sisters of SILVER SCENES present The Universal Blogathon to commemorate the studios 100th anniversary. The party, which is described as being a howling good time, runs from October 29th to 31st and HERE is your invitation.


Movie buffs have their sacred traditions. Here are some of mine. Christmas Eve belongs to Alastair Sim as Scrooge. St. Patrick's Day is commonly accepted as The Quiet Man Day. October 3rd is Werewolf of London Day to celebrate the shared birthdate of Warner Oland (1879-1938) and Henry Hull (1890-1977), the two character actors with star billing in the 1935 Universal release.



The infection and the antidote.

Dr. Wilfred Glendon (Henry Hull) is a botanist with a single-minded thirst for adventure. He travels to Tibet in search of a rare flower, the mariphasa, which blooms by the light of the moon. The only example of this blossom is in a mysterious valley shunned by all who know of it. Porters refuse to continue on the journey. Glendon insists and persists, and goes where no man has gone before. Dr. Glendon not only finds the flower, but has an encounter with a strange beast that leaves him with a scar and ... something else.

Wilfred secludes himself in his London laboratory with only his aid Hawkins (J.M. Kerrigan) allowed entry. He is trying to coax the mariphasa plant to bloom under manufactured moonlight. He is a driven man who cuts himself off from all society, even that of his pretty young wife Lisa (Valerie Hobson).



A triangle forms.
Henry Hull, Valerie Hobson, Lester Mattews

The Botanical Society presents many of Dr. Glendon's choice plants at an exhibition and tea which he tries to shun. Among the many guests are Paul Ames (Lester Matthews), an old friend and sweetheart of Lisa's. Paul's aunt, the crotchety dowager duchess type, Lady Forsythe (Charlotte Granville). Lisa's Aunt, a society butterfly, Ettie Coombes (Spring Byington) and Dr. Yogami (Warner Oland), a fellow botanist who wishes to consult Dr. Glendon.

Glendon and Yogami have much in common. It was Yogami, transformed into a werewolf, who attacked Glendon in Tibet. Now Glendon faces the same fate of lycanthropy. It is only the sap from the mariphasa plant which provides a temporary antidote to the curse. Yogami is a tortured soul whose own attempts to grow the plant have met with failure. Glendon, who has yet to experience a transformation, is skeptical.



Small talk about Fate and lost souls.
Warner Oland, Spring Byington

Dr. Glendon, like Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll, walks the streets of London transformed into something not wolf and not man, but a satanic creature with the worst qualities of both. This was Dr. Yagami's description and the man knew of which he spoke. A slightly inebriated Ettie Coombs comes face to face with the monster. Ettie survives, but a hapless stroller in nearby Goose Lane is horribly mangled and the case falls to Lady Forsythe's son, the head of Scotland Yard Sir Thomas Forsythe (Lawrence Grant). Paul Ames speaks of a werewolf murder he heard of in South American. Dr. Yogami implores the Yard's assistance in retrieving the last remaining mariphasa from Dr. Glendon or London will face an epidemic that will leave it a shambles. Yogami has a way with words. Forsythe dismisses the supernatural nonsense as "poppycock".



A couple of swells.
Ethel Griffies and Zeffie Tilbury

Wilfred becomes more estranged from Lisa and Lisa grows more attached to Paul. Wilfred attempts to isolate himself in a rooming house. He is without hope and forced to commit yet another horrible murder. The audience, however, is relieved of his singular despair by the best comic relief team in any horror film from any studio. The landlady Mrs. Moncaster (Zeffie Tilbury) and her bosom friend Mrs. Whack (Ethel Griffies) are a couple of nosy old soaks who think nothing of bashing each other about and insulting each other in a most endearing manner.

Fate has decreed the end for both Glendon and Yogami. We can but hope for the well being of those in their midst.



There's a bad moon on the rise.
Henry Hull

I am a fan of the screenplay by John Colton (Rain, The Shanghai Gesture). You can tell by the examples above that Dr. Yagami is prone to be flowery, yet he remains sincere. The humour in the characters is appropriate to their class and backgrounds, be it the flighty Ettie Coombes or the earthy Mrs. Whack and Mrs. Moncaster. Lisa Glendon gets to combine her loving wife side with the headstrong individual she was previous to marriage. Each character is a distinct individual and the cast, even in the tiniest roles, is given due consideration under otherwise unremarkable director Stuart Walker. Karl Hajos provided the moody score for Werewolf of London. The composer/conductor was nominated twice for the Academy Award for the comedy The Man Who Walked Alone in 1945 and the crime drama Summer Storm in 1946.

Jack Pierce's make-up for this early incarnation of the werewolf is less layered and intense than what will come in 1940s The Wolf Man. Wilfred Glendon can bundle up in a hat, scarf and turned up collar and roam the streets of London at will. He is most definitely not human, but just what sort of beast is he?



Nursing the mariphasa lumina lupita.
J.M. Kerrigan

My favourite aspect of Werewolf of London is the cinematography by Charles Stumar. The mariphasa plant glowing against the mountains in Tibet or the darkened London laboratory. The gloom of the den where Glendon first transforms into the creature. There is an hypnotic, almost comforting aspect to the look of the film. It is very familiar to fans as Stumar, who sadly died in a plane crash at age 44 the year of this film's release, was responsible for the "look" of The Raven, The Mummy and other Universal pictures going back through 1923's The Hunchback of Notre Dame. 1923 was Stumar's first year at Universal in a career that began in Hollywood in 1917.

Werewolf of London is a treat any time of year, but I find it works best in the cool of October, for character lead birthdates and Hallowe'en.










16 comments:

  1. I like your observation of this: "Each character is a distinct individual and the cast, even in the tiniest roles, is given due consideration..." such is the way with the best films, and a delightful surprise in the lesser knowns. This one I've not seen, but I love "atmospheric" movies and I'll look out for it.

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    1. Horror seems to be the one place where you don't have to be a traditional leading man to be the lead in the picture. This one has atmosphere to burn.

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  2. Does that screen cap of Henry Hull represent the complete stage of the transformation? It almost looks like an in-between stage.

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    1. That's his full on wolf face. Of course, I had seen Lon's movie first (and often) so I was a little taken aback the first time Hull skulked around. He's almost human looking, or at least more human looking than Fredric March as Mr. Hyde. Over the years I've come to think that the look works because, as Yogami said, he is "neither man nor beast".

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  3. A terrific film. I watched it again after many years - last year or earlier this year - can't remember. Enjoyed the heck out of it. I especially liked the beginning in 'Tibet'. SO mysterious. However, everytime I looked at Warner Oland I saw Charlie Chan and that didn't help but other than that, I have no quibble. And by way, isn't Yogami a Japanese sounding name? Tibet isn't near Japan is it? You'd think they'd have given him a more Chinese sounding name. I'm being picky I know.

    Very much enjoyed this post, Pat.

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    1. Glendon is from London. I suppose it isn't outside the realm of possibility that Yogami came from Japan looking for the mariphasa. I get a kick out of seeing Oland stepping away from Chan. Yogami is a pitiable character at the beginning, but the way he lashes out at Glendon in their last scene is so full of venom. Oooh. Fate dealt harshly with these two characters, but neither one is particularly appealing. It does make for an entertaining movie.

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  4. I've got a new holiday to celebrate next October! This is a great pick--the first notable werewolf film and one of the best plotted. I also admire the cinematography.

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    1. We should start planning for next year's "Werewolf of London" day. I wonder if TCM has a wine for the occasion.

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  5. I have such a fondness for The Wolf Man ( 1941 ) that I often pass up watching the original whenever it plays on television. But you have made me realize what I have been missing! Henry Hull and Warner Oland together....now that is a powerful character actor combo. I'm going to remedy my mistake and watch Werewolf of London tonight. Thanks for spotlighting one of Wolfie's films for the blogathon ( and for giving me the impetus to watch the movie ) !

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    1. I hope you get as much pleasure out of the movie as I do.

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  6. I have not seen this but it has been added. To my list. Henry Hullis such a great character actor. Don't think he ever gave a bad,performance.

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    1. I owe Hull a great deal. Whenever I have a "rant" at a politician or anyone who ticks me off, all I have to do is go into his newspaper editor routine from "Jesse James" and feel an immediate release.

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  7. Oh, CW, you have done it again - picked a real winner. I have a real soft spot for the werewolves and this one is no exception. This is my kind of horror film. Great job!

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    1. Thanks. It's hard not to feel for these guys minding their own business, strolling through the woods or picking posies in Tibet and - Bam! - cursed by a stranger's bicuspids.

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  8. Woman, you are going to turn me into a Warner Oland fan. Really, I now want to dig into his filmography only because of the good things you talk about him in the blog. And there is no such a treat as a 1930's visually stunning movie, right?
    Thanks for the kind comment!
    Kisses!
    Le

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    1. Aha! You caught onto my ultimate plan. Thanks.

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