Jack Pierce designs The Werewolf of London
Werewolf of London (1935) was filmed six years before The Wolf Man (1941), but make-up artist and design champ Jack Pierce perfected his craft on this film. The designs in this film were re-used on in The Wolf Man, but the plot is improved. Pierce also created the make-up and designs for Frankenstein, Dracula, and worked with all the Universal greats, including Bela Lugosi, Lon Cheney Jr, and Boris Karloff. Jack Pierce is practically the father of the Universal monsters.
Werewolf of London was Universal’s first werewolf movie. Henry Hull stars as Dr Glendon, the guy who becomes a werewolf. Hull refused to sit still for long make-up sessions, so Jack Pierce re-designed his make-up concept for the werewolf. He later used his original design in The Wolf Man (1941) on Lon Cheney Jr.
This movie establishes the rules for all later Universal werewolf movies. Warner Oland plays Doctor Yogami and acts as exposition to explain to us what a werewolf is. He reveals that a certain plant is a temporary antidote for what he calls “werewolf-ism”. This plant is forgotten about in later films. Henry Hull recovers some of the plant while he’s in Tibet and he’s overjoyed when it works, dispelling his werewolf transformation problem. His relief doesn’t last long.
Hull transforms into a werewolf and goes buck wild. Or at least he thinks he does. He climbs up the side of the building, and surprises a woman alone in her room. The woman screeches so damn loud, the werewolf runs off. Even I wanted to leave.
The plot isn’t that memorable. It involves the Doctor helping out Glendon and trying to uncover the secrets of the werewolf cure for himself. Warner Oland started playing Charlie Chan in the 1930s and starred in 16 Chan movies. His character here is practically the same one as in Charlie Chan, but with less energy. He is obsessed over werewolves, but for good reason, because he is a werewolf too. This fact is not revealed until the very end of the movie, and I wasn’t even aware of it until then. Pretty stupid, because that revelation takes this movie to a whole new level.
This movie is not to be confused with An American Werewolf in London (1981), The Werewolf of Washington (1973), The Werewolf (1956), or The Werewolf Reborn (1998). Whew. Unlike those films, Werewolf of London does not have any humor, dark or otherwise. It plays everything so straight that the movie begins to sag with its own seriousness. Everyone does a fairly good job, but everything is very generic. I will say Henry Hull tries his best and his facial expressions are top notch. He’s the best part of this movie, obviously.
At the end, Glendon catches Yogami trying to steal his magic flower. Yogami doesn’t get a chance to use it, because Glendon transforms into a wolf, and kills him. Glendon rushes down the stairs and is shot by some people down below, who just happen to be there at the right time. He flops onto the floor and apologizes to his fiance, then dies.
This ending is perhaps the most disappointing part of the whole movie. Glendon’s death and literal apology destroys all the suspense in the scene. He’s shot, falls down the stairs, and says “Hey sorry about that!” then dies. It’s pretty dumb. It destroys the aura surrounding the werewolf too, because the character seems to speak and think just fine. Why is he so nuts then?
All in all, this movie is lacking in a lot of places. Most scenes need more time to flesh out the characters and develop the emotion, but the movie is only 72 minutes because it was originally part of a double-feature. Glendon’s death is the weakest part of the movie, and the conflict between him and Yogami is never developed. They could have done a lot with it, considering they’re both werewolves, but we don’t even see Yogami transform. I’m told that Ogami (or a stuntman) did appear as a werewolf in the film, but since the make-up and his wolf-appearance is almost identical to Glendon’s, I couldn’t tell the difference.
What is really surprising about this movie though, is that Yogami looks like a plain ole Charlie Chan character, but it turns out he was framing Glendon for the werewolf murders, when he was responsible all along. This revelation only comes out in a small snippet of dialogue at the end and they don’t dwell on it. Looking at the picture below, there are some differences between the two werewolves, but I had to go back and check for myself, because I thought it was Glendon all along. This “werewolf movie” experiment obviously proved that the concept deserved a second chance, but I think Lon Cheney Jr does a better job as The Wolf Man, which is why his performance is iconic, and this movie is relegated to a historical footnote.