Though not as popular or as well known as the 1941 horror classic THE WOLF MAN, this chiller from Universal is the original werewolf movie and a surprisingly exotic exercise in the bizarre. The film opens in Tibet as Henry Hull, a famed British botanist, begins a perilous expedition into
the mountains to search for the marifasa plant which blossoms only in the light of a full moon. After a difficult climb, Hull spots the precious plant and moves forward toward it only to encounter a strange and savage beast about to pounce. The creature, a werewolf which also wants the plant,
attacks and bites him. Hull manages to scare the werewolf off and take the plant back to civilization. Back in London, Hull experiments with the plant in his laboratory, rigging up special lamps to simulate the light of the full moon. The botanist is visited by Warner Oland, an Asian scientist who
informs him that juice from a marifasa plant in full bloom can cure the curse of lycanthropy (werewolfism). Hull dismisses Oland's claims as ridiculous, until the mysterious Asian reveals that he was the werewolf which attacked Hull in Tibet. Oland also explains that the scientist himself will be
transformed into a werewolf at the next full moon as a result of the bite. When the transformation occurs (depicted through a series of dissolves), Hull dons a large overcoat and a checkered cap and takes to the street in search of blood, looking more like Robert Louis Stevenson's Mr. Hyde than a
crazed beast. He kills a lonely prostitute, and the next morning--having returned to his human state--he is plagued with visions of what he has done. Hull works feverishly to get the Tibetan plant to bloom before the next full moon, but his efforts fail. Knowing what will happen at nightfall, he
checks into a flophouse and locks the door in an effort to imprison the beast. That evening two drunken Cockney landladies, Ethel Griffies and Zeffie Tilbury, listen outside the door as Hull undergoes another hideous transformation. The werewolf then escapes his prison and runs through the streets
in search of more blood. The next day's papers are full of news about the horrible series of murders. Hull reasons that he cannot be responsible for all the killings, so Oland (as a werewolf) must be terrorizing the streets as well. Eventually Hull's efforts with the marifasa plant pay off, and
the flower blooms. Oland arrives and attempts to steal the blossom. As the moon begins to rise, the two men battle each other for possession of the plant. Hull kills Oland, but it is too late to take the antidote, so he is transformed into a werewolf once again. He then attacks his wife, Valerie
Hobson, but before he has a chance to hurt her, he is shot down by the police and reverts back to his human form.
Full of imagination, innovation, and style, THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON was a fine addition to Univeral's stable of monsters. The viewer's sympathies are torn between Hull and Oland, for they are both afflicted with the same horrible malady. Hull's performance is a bit cold and distant, but Oland is
right on the mark with a mix of mystery, villainy, pathos, and tragedy. This is one of Oland's best performances. Hull, a famed stage actor who had appeared in director Stuart Walker's previous film, GREAT EXPECTATIONS, was chosen to replace Boris Karloff--the original choice for the role.
Inasmuch as the actor's first starring role required that he fill the shoes of Universal's top horror draw, Hull turned in a commendable performance. THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON looks different from the other Universal horror films of the era. The exotic opening scenes in Tibet and Hull's rather
modern, uncluttered laboratory certainly aren't the stuff of a Tod Browning or James Whale horror film. The transformation scenes are remarkably creative. In one such sequence, the camera tracks Hull as he walks down the street, periodically obscured by a series of pillars in the foreground. The
scene was filmed so it appears that Hull is transformed during one long, uninterrupted tracking shot. Actually the camera was stopped each time a pillar obscures Hull, additional makeup was applied, and then shooting was resumed. Some critics and horror movie fans have criticized the somewhat
perfunctory werewolf makeup done by Universal's Jack Pierce. (The problem with the makeup job was that actor Hull refused to sit still for the required number of hours.) THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON is a fascinating, though somewhat obscure, gem of a horror film that deserves more attention than it has
received. The better-known THE WOLF MAN (1941) is not a sequel or a remake, but a wholly original film.
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- Review: Though not as popular or as well known as the 1941 horror classic THE WOLF MAN, this chiller from Universal is the original werewolf movie and a surprisingly exotic exercise in the bizarre. The film opens in Tibet as Henry Hull, a famed British botanist, b… (more)