Franchise Chronicles: Werewolf Of London (1935)

By Edward O'Hare
Tip 1: Dress for success.
Welcome to the Franchise Chronicles, a movie-by-movie look at the development and evolution of cinema’s most enduring sagas. I am currently exploring the classic Universal Monsters and this week’s movie is Werewolf of London (1935) directed by Stuart Walker.

I know, I know. Ed, isn’t Universal’s werewolf monster the Wolfman? That’s right Aloysius. The Wolfman is Universal’s marquee canine creature but he is not their only one. Their first attempt at a werewolf movie was this little diddy. (Why did I call you Aloysius? I don’t know. Who cares?) Let me reiterate up front that this is not a critique of the film. I liked it just fine. My goal for these posts is to discuss each movie in terms of how it serves and develops the franchise. My best guess as to why we didn’t see more of this character is because the film borrows elements from many other franchises but does not have enough unique pieces to stand out from the pack.

Tip 2: Never bring your work home.
 As with The Mummy and The Invisible Man, this movie employs many of the same visuals and story beats as previous Monster movies. We start off with a couple of scientists in an exotic locale (the mountains of Tibet). They encounter a supernatural creature but try to pretend it was superstitious nonsense and head back to London (Somehow these movies always lead back to London). One of the scientists is so obsessed with his work that he is ignoring his beautiful wife (in this case Valerie Hobson returns to play pretty much the same part she played in The Bride of Frankenstein). She, of course, has an old friend in town (Lester Matthews) who is more handsome and probably better for her. There is another doctor who knows all about werewolves. Unlike Van Helsing, Dr. Yogami (Warner Oland) is not hunting the monsters but is one himself. We also get concerned but bumbling London police and lively, eccentric civilians. Miss Ettie Coombes (Spring Byington) is fun to watch but she is no Una O’Connor. The scientist rents a room at an inn in the country but ends up busting out to terrorize the villagers before being killed and professing his love for his wife before dying and returning to human form.

Tip 3: Tip Bartenders well and they'll share secrets.
I don’t want to directly compare this film to The Wolfman (we are not up to that film yet) but I will say the number one reason Werewolf of London probably did not get a sequel was the title character. It could be the writing or maybe the performance but however you slice it Dr. Wilfred Glendon (Henry Hull) is not very likeable. Hull does not have Lugosi’s charm, Karloff’s imposing nature or Rains’s biting wit. He also does not have any tender moments with his wife Lisa. All we see him do in his human form is worry. It is difficult to latch on and connect with a character like that. As far as the Werewolf goes, Jack Pierce’s makeup design is very good but not nearly as iconic as Frankenstein’s Monster or the Mummy. The fur and the teeth are there, but the facial structure could do more to resemble a wolf. It actually looks much more like the Wally Westmore makeup that Fredric March wore in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), which we did not cover because it was a Paramount release. Even the look of the monster feels like a borrowed element. Universal’s next crack at a werewolf would have to step up the game.

Next week, Bela Lugosi does not return but we will get to meet Dracula’s Daughter.

Edward O’Hare, nickname TBD, has been poking around the deep caverns of pop culture for some years now. His hobbies include making Starfleet org charts and badgering people who haven’t seen the Adventures of Captain Marvel movie serial from 1941. He one day dreams of teaching Bill Simmons that superheroes and pro athletes are not all that different.

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